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By Sima Qian
Translated by Burton Watson
A Renditions -Columbia University Press Book
Hong Kong New York
1961 Columbia University Press
Revised Edition 1993 Columbia University Press
All Rights Reserved. ISBN 0-231-08166-9
ISBN 0-231-08167-7 (pbk.)
Library of Congress Number 92-210621
Published by
The Research Centre for Translation
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Columbia University Press
This work has been accepted in the Chinese Translations Series of
the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
p 10 9 8 7 6 5 4
Translator's Note
Part 1: Heaven, Earth, and Man
Shi ji 28: The Treatise on the Feng and Shan Sacrifices
Shiji 29: The Treatise on the Yellow River and Canals
Shi ji 30: The Treatise on the Balanced Standard
Part II: Statesmen, Generals, and Foreign Peoples
Shi ji 107: The Biographies of the Marquises of Weiqi
and Wuan
Shiji 108: The Biography of Han Changru
Shiji 109: The Biography of General Li Guang
Shi ji 110: The Account of the Xiongnu
Shi ji Ill: The Biographies of General Wei Qing and
the Swift Cavalry General Huo Qubing
Shi ji 20: The Chronological Table of Marquises Enfeoffed
from the Jianyuan Era on: Introduction
Shi ji 112: The Biographies of the Marquis of Pingjin and
Zhufu Yan
Shiji 113: The Account of Southern Yue
Shi ji 114: The Account of Eastern Yue
Shiji 115: The Account ofChaoxian
Shi ji 123: The Account of Dayuan
Shi ji 116: The Account of the Southwestern Barbarians
Shi ji 117: The Biography of Sima Xiangru
Shi ji 120: The Biographies of Ji An and Zheng Dangshi
Part III: The Plotters of Revolt
Shi ji 118: The Biographies of the Kings of Huainan
and Hengshan
Part IV: The Collective Biographies
Han Dynasty II
Shi ji 121: The Biographies of the Confucian Scholars 355
Shi ji 119: The Biographies of the Reasonable Officials 373
Shi ji 122: The Biographies of the Harsh Officials 379
Shi ji 124: The Biographies ofthe Wandering Knights 409
Shi ji 125: The Biographies of the Emperors' Male Favourites 419
Shi ji 127: The Biographies of the Diviners of Lucky Days 425
Shi ji 129: The Biographies of the Money-makers 433
Finding List of Chapters of the Shi ji
China and Its Neighbours in the Former Han
_ ,
' o>
The chapters ofthe Shi ji translated in this volume deal principally with the
reign of Emperor Wu, the period of Sima Qian 'sown lifetime. The historian is
here no longer copying and systematizing the written accounts of ancient China,
as he had done in the chapters on pre-Qin history, nor relating the somewhat
romanticized tales of the founding and early days of the Han that had been
handed down to him. He is writing about "the p r e ~ e n t emperor", the ruler at
whose court he spent his adult life, about the nobles and ministers he knew there,
about his friends, and about his enemies.
Sima Qian was in an excellent position to gather material for a history of
his age. Undoubtedly he heard the speeches of many of the men he describes,
listened to the deliberations of the courtiers, consulted fi les of official docu-
ments kept in the palace, and observed the effects of various government
policies when he accompanied the emperor on tours through the provinces. He
had personally visited some of the barbarian lands that were being brought under
Han rule by Emperor Wu's foreign conquests, and in other cases he no doubt
heard from the generals themselves the accounts of their wars and hardships.
Even his description of penal conditions under Emperor Wu is based, we may
be sure, upon personal experience, since he himself was imprisoned for a time.
Regarding this last it may be well to review here the facts of Sima Qian's
melancholy brush with the law. In I 08 BC Sima Qian succeeded his father, who
had died two years earlier, in the post of grand historian at the court of Emperor
Wu. During the years immediately following, he was engaged in revising and
correcting the calendar. At the same time he seems to have been busily at work
writing his history of China's past, a task which his father had begun and had
charged him to complete. In 99 BC, however, his fortunes, like those of so many
of the officials he describes, took an unexpected and disastrous tum.
This year a large force of Chinese cavalry and infantry was sent to attack
the Xiongnu, one of a long series of expeditions launched by Emperor Wu in
an attempt to break the power of these troublesome northern tribes. One of the
commanders, Li Ling, won a brilliant initial success against the enemy, news
of which was received with rejoicing at the court. Later, however, when
Han Dynasty II
reinforcements failed to arrive and hi s troops had been decimated by a running
battle, he was surrounded by the enemy and persuaded to surrender. Emperor
Wu expected his unsuccessful generals to die with their men, and when word
of Li Ling's capitulation reached him he was sick with rage. The other courtiers
united in condemning Li Ling's action, but Sima Qian. who had known Li Ling
personally, attempted to speak on his behalf, pointing out the glory which the
general had won before he was overwhelmed by superior numbers, and suggest-
ing that he had surrendered only in hopes of finding some opportunity to escape
and return to China.
But the emperor was in no mood to listen to palliative arguments and
summarily had Sima Qian handed over to the law officials for "investigation".
Knowing what was expected of them, they found him guilty of attempting "to
deceive the emperor", a crime punishable by death. With a sufficient amount of
money Sima Qian might have bought commutation of the sentence, but this he
did not possess. No one raised a hand to help him. According to Han custom, a
gentleman of honour was expected to commit suicide before allowing himself
to be dragged off to prison for investigation- which meant torture until the
victim confessed. But Sima Qian declined to take this drastic step because, as
he himself states, he hoped at all cost to finish writing his history. In the end he
was sentenced to undergo castration, the severest penalty next to death and one
which carried with it a peculiar aura of shame. Whether the emperor considered
him too learned and valuable a man to execute, or whether Sima Qian himself
requested to undergo this disgrace in preference to death and the end of his hopes
for literary fame, we do not know.
After his punishment the emperor made him a palace secretary, a position
of great honour and trust that could be filled only by a eunuch, since it involved
waiting upon the emperor when the latter was at leisure in the women's quarters.
At this time Sima Qian seems to have completed his history. We do not know
when he died, though it was probably around 90 BC, a few years before the
death of his sovereign.'
Obviously a man who had suffered such a punishment would have every
reason to hate the ruler who inflicted it and to despise his fellow courtiers who
had been too timid or callous to come to his aid. For this reason many critics
have eyed the sections of the Shi ji relating to Emperor Wu and his court with
For a more detailed account of the Li Ling affair and Sima Qian's life, see Watson,
Ssu-ma Ch' ien: Grand Historian of China (New York, Columbia University Press, 1958).
Introduction xiii
suspicion and have suggested that the historian may have deliberately distorted
the facts out of motives of spite and revenge. In the Later Han Emperor Ming
(AD 58-75), who did not like Sima Qian 's unflattering portrait of his predeces-
sor, accused the historian of "using veiled words to criticize and slander,
attacking his own times".
From very early times all but the opening paragraph
of "The Basic Annals of Emperor Wu" has been missing, either lost or never
written. Some writers have asserted that the chapter as Sima Qian wrote it was
so derogatory that when it was shown to the emperor he scraped the writing off
the tablets.
Unfortunately we have almost no other accounts of Emperor Wu with
which to check the fairness of Sima Qian 's version. No reports by Sima Qian 's
contemporaries, if they were ever written, have survived, and posterity must
forever view Emperor Wu and his age solely through the eyes of a man whom
the emperor, in a fit of petty rage, condemned to the most humiliating punish-
ment conceivable. It is difficult to imagine a more striking and ironical example
of the awesome power wielded by historians.
Sima Qian's portrait of Emperor Wu is a complex one: in this respect at
least we may be sure that it does justice to its original. The personality of the
emperor impresses one first and foremost by its tremendous energy. That the
energy was often misdirected, guided by stubbornness and severity, or led astray
by blatant charlatanism, we cannot deny. Yet not since the First Emperor of the
Qin, whom Emperor Wu at times disturbingly resembles, had China had such
a vigorous and strong-willed ruler, nor was it to have another one for many
centuries to come. Much that he did was of undeniable benefit to the nation.
Abroad he drove back the Xiongnu in the north and brought the Han into contact
with the states of Central Asia and the tribes of the southwest, southeast, and
Korea. At home he greatly strengthened the authority ofthe centraJ government,
built roads, constructed canals, and controlled the ravages of the Yellow River.
He brought to the Han a power and splendour it had never known before, a
splendour perhaps most vividly conveyed in the rich and exuberant language of
his court poet, Sima Xiangru.
But it was a costly glory. Though Sima Qian never attempts to belittle the
military triumphs and material benefits of the emperor's reign, he carefully notes
the fearful price of each, in loss of fighting men and animals, in expenditures of
2 .
lbtd., p. 150.
xiv Han Dynasty II
gold, in labour and hardship to the people. And besides these material losses he
notes, more subtly but no less positively, the spiritual losses of the empire -
the growing timidity and sycophancy of the court ministers, the increasing
harshness of the provincial officials, the callousness of the generals, the wiliness
and ugly sophistication that were spreading among the once simple and law-
abiding commoners, the slow death of freedom in all areas of life. It is not a
pretty picture.
But were things reaJiy this bad? Or is this merely the biased view of a
disillusioned scholar, steeped in the idealized tales of antiquity and embittered
by the experiences of his lifetime? All we can say is that no historian writing in
the centuries immediately after Sima Qian's death, when there was still time to
correct distortions if they existed, ever attempted to ameliorate this sombre
portrayal of the reign of Emperor Wu.
Emperor Ming's assertion that the Shi ji is written in "veiled words"
introduces another problem. In Han times it was widely believed that Confucius
had used "veiled words" in composing the Spring and Autumn Annals in order
to convey his judgments of contemporary events and persons. And at the end of
his account of the Xiongnu, Sima Qian makes a seemingly irrelevant reference
to this tradition, by which he evidently wishes to warn the reader that he too is
obliged to use such veiled and indirect language when writing about his own
times.In view of this we are presumably justified in looking for irony and covert
criticism in the pages that follow. But where are we to draw the line? Is no
utterance of the historian to be taken at face value? Are even his infrequent
praises suspect?
Such are the problems which confront the reader in understanding and
assessing Sima Qian's narrative. They are problems which have never been
settled, and there is no prospect that they ever will be. If there is irony in Sima
Qian ' s writing, it is in many cases so subtle as to defy positive identification. If
there is prejudice, it is not the kind which betrays itself through gross distortion
or stoops to caricature. No man can be expected to give a completely unbiased
accounc of his own age. That Sima Qian ' s description of the era of Emperor Wu,
for all its sombreness, never exceeds the bounds of verisimilitude is probably
the best indication we have of his integrity as a historian.
Sima Qian begins his history with an account of the ancient sage rulers, the
Yellow Emperor, Emperors Yao and Shun, and Emperor Yu, the founder of the
Xiadynasty. He traces the rise and decline of the Xia, of its successor, the Shang
or Yin dynasty, and of the Zhou whose glories are described so profusely in the
ctroduction XV
:onfucian Classics. He surveys the decay of the Zhou court and the division of
he empire into a number of rival feudal states engaged in a protracted struggle
or supremacy. He describes the steady rise to power of the state of Qin, the
:hanges brought about by the First Emperor of the Qin, and the sudden collapse
,f his regime shortly after his death. Finally, in the part of his history translated
n these volumes, he relates the story of the founding of the Han and the fortunes
lf the dynasty under the succeeding rulers.
This is the entire span of Chinese history- indeed of all human history-
tS Sima Qian knew it. Writing in the cold light of "today" - for him, around
00 BC- reviewing such a past, comparing it with his own time, was he filled
vith exhilaration, one wonders, or with despair? Did he see human history as a
1rocess of evolution, of devolution, or of endlessly repeating cycles? And if as
he last, had they any meaning in his eyes?
These questions, like those I have mentioned above, the reader should keep
n mind when reading the Shi ji, though I cannot guarantee that he will find any
mswers. Sima Qian is not a philosopher but a historian. Like most Chinese
1istorians, he indulges in a minimum of personal comment, and such scattered
>pinions as he states cannot be made to conform to any recognizable school of
bought. Somewhere behind the vast, sprawling array of facts and anecdotes we
;ense the personality of the historian, manipulating the figures of his drama,
1ligning cause and effect as he would like us to see them. But the more we seek
.o discover and define that personality, the more it eludes us. Like Tacitus, the
1istorian of Western antiquity whom he most resembles, his interests are so
JToad and his sympathies so complex that it is never possible to say with
;ertainty, "This is the real Sima Qian".
Yet, elusive as it may be, the personality of Sima Qian lights up for us the
Jeriod of human experience known as the early Han. As the Persian Wars live
mly through Herodotus, the Peloponnesian War through Thucydides, so the
!arly Han, and more especially the era of Emperor Wu, is illumined almost
!ntirely through the writing of this one man. Had he not lived there would
1robably be only darkness there.
' .
As I have said, no text exists for "The Basic Annals of Emperor Wu". Most
likely Sima Qian never wrote the chapter but merely prepared the summary and
first paragraph (translated in Volume 1), and laid the work aside while he waited
to see how the reign of Emperor Wu would tum out. The tale that Emperor Wu
read the chapter and angrily destroyed it seems very dubious. As Sima Qian
drew nearer to his own time in his narrative, he tended to use the Basic Annals
section of his history for mere summaries of the official acts of the emperors,
quoting at length from memorials and imperial edicts. Emperor Wu could hardly
have objected to such material. Moreover, it was always Sima Qian' s practice
to present the most favourable picture of a person in the chapter devoted to that
person, revealing the man's less pleasant aspects in other chapters. This is the
way, for example, that he treats Emperor Wen in the chapters translated in
Volume I. If he actually wrote a "Basic Annals of Emperor Wu", therefore, it
is unlikely that it contained anything as derogatory to the emperor's reputation
as the information found in the chapters which follow and which have survived
without damage.
The first large section of the Shi ji, the "Basic Annals", is therefore not
represented in this volume.' The reader must construct the biography of Emperor
Wu for himself from the information contained in other chapters.
The second section, the "Chronological Tables", is represented by the brief
introduction to Chapter 20, "The Chronological Table of Marquises Enfeoffed
from the ]ian yuan Era on". The last two chronological tables, Chapters 21 and
22, have only the tersest headings and have therefore not been included.
Of the third section, the "Treatises", I have presented here the last three
chapters. The other five treatises, dealing with rites, music, the pitch pipes, the
calendar, and astronomy, are either in fragmentary condition or too specialized
for inclusion here.
I .
For a complete hst of the chapters translated and where they are to be found, see the
Finding List of Chapters Translated in Volumes I and II at the end of this volume.
xviii Han Dynasty l/
Of the fourth section, the "Hereditary Houses", those chapters dealing with
Han times, namely, Chapters 48 to 59, have been translated in Volume I. Chapter
60, "The Hereditary Houses of the Three Kings", contains no narrative, but
simply the texts of memorials and edicts dealing with the enfeoffment of three
of Emperor W u' s sons. Apparently Sima Qian never got around to working up
the material into biographical form, and the chapter has accordingly been
The last and longest section of the Shi ji, comprising Chapters 61 to 130,
consists of biographies of famous men and accounts of foreign peoples. In
Volume I, I have translated or summarized all those dealing with the early Han,
namely Chapter 84, Chapter 89 to 104, and Chapter 106. Chapter 105, the
biographies of famous doctors, contains a great deal of specialized information
on early Chinese medical lore. Unfortunately, it would require an expert in such
matters to interpret and translate it adequately, and I have therefore omitted this
Volume II therefore begins with Chapter I 07 and continues to the end with
the following omissions. Chapter 126, "The Biographies of Wits and
Humourists", deals with courtiers who were famous for their witty reprimands
and retorts. Regrettably, they all belong to pre-Qin or Qin times and hence fall
outside the scope of this translation. Chapter 128, "On Divination by the
Tortoise Shell and Milfoil Stalks", is a fragment of doubtful authenticity and
did not seem to merit inclusion. Chapter I 30, "The Postface of the Grand
Historian", containing the biographies of Sima Qian and his father, has already
been translated in my study, Ssu-ma Ch' ien: Grand Historian of China. I have
rearranged the order of the chapters slightly to facilitate reading.
In preparing the material in this part I have been aided by a new Japanese
translation of the Shi ji by Noguchi Sadao and others, entitled Shiki, in the
Chugoku koten bungaku zen shu series (Tokyo: Heibonsha, I 958-59); and by
Food and Money in Ancient China, by Nancy Lee Swann (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1950), as well as by the works listed in the textual note in
Volume I.
Among those who have received the mandate of Heaven and become rulers,
few have been blessed with the auspicious omens telling them that they are
worthy to perform the Feng and Shan sacrifices. When these are carried
out, there is none among the countless spirits who does not enjoy pure
offerings. Thus I have traced tbe origins of the religious rites appropriate
to the various gods, the famous mountains, and the great rivers, and made
"The Treatise on the Feng and Shan Sacrifices".
Among the emperors and kings who from ancient times have received the
mandate of Heaven to rule, why are there some who did not perform the Feng
and Shan sacrifices? For all who were blessed with the heavenly omens
signifying their worthiness to perform these rites hastened without fail to Mt.
Tai to carry them out, and even some who had not received such signs took it
upon themselves to perform them. Yet others, though they enjoyed the mandate
to rule, felt that their merit was not yet sufficient; or, though their merit was
sufficient, they felt that their virtue had not been full y manifested to all creatures;
or again, though their virtue had been fully manifested, they felt that they could
not spare the time to carry them out. This is the reason that these rites have
seldom been performed!
One of the ancient books says, "If for three years rites are not performed,
they will fall into disuse. If for three years music is not played, it will become
lost.',2 When each dynasty attains the height of its glory, then the Feng and Shan
The Feng and Shan were sacrifices ofthe greatest solemnity, performed by the emperor
at Mt. Tai and addressed to Heaven and Earth respectively. Though apparently of fairly late
origin, the Han scholars maintained that they had been performed by all the great sage rulers
of antiquity. The present chapter has traditionally been interpreted as a veiled attack by Sima
Qian upon Emperor Wu, the first Han ruler to decide that he was worthy to perform these rites.
The quotation is now found in Analects XVII, 21 , though Sima Qian is perhaps quoting
from some lost work on ritual.
4 Han Dynasty II
are celebrated, but when it reaches a period of decline, they are no longer
performed. Thus the performances of these have at times been separated by
periods of as many as a thousand or more years, and at the least by several
hundred years. This is the reason that the details of the ancient ceremony have
been completely lost, and it is now impossible to discover with any exactitude
just how it was carried out.
In the Book of Documents we read:
Emperor Shun, holding the jewelled astronomical instruments,
checked the movements of the Seven Ruling Bodies.
Then he per-
formed a special sacrifice to the Lord on High, made pure offerings to
the Six Honoured Ones,
sacrificed from afar to the mountains and
rivers, and performed his obeisance to all the various spirits. Gathering
together the jade tokens of enfeoffment from the five ranks of feudal
lords, he selected an auspicious month and day and held audience with
the barons of the four directions and the governors of the various
provinces, at which time he returned the jade tokens. In the second
month of the year he journeyed east on a tour of inspection and made
a visittoDaizong. (Daizong is Mt. Tai.) There he made a burnt offering
to Heaven and sacrificed from afar to the various mountains and rivers
in succession. After that he met with the princes of the east. (The
princes of the east are the feudal lords.) He harmonized the seasons
and months, corrected the days of the week, and standardized the pitch
pipes and the measures of length, capacity, and weight. He attended to
the five rites and the five kinds of jewels and received the three kinds
of silk, the two living offerings, and the one dead one.
In the fifth
month he journeyed south on a tour of inspection and made a visit to
the Southern Peak. (The Southern Peak is Mt. Heng.) In the eighth
-The sun, the moon, and the planets Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury. The
passage is quoted from the first section ofthe Book of Documents, the Canon of Yao and Shun.
The phrases in parentheses are Sima Qian's own glosses on the text. He quotes the passage
here no doubt to show that even in the most ancient of the Confucian Classics there is no
detailed account of the Feng and Shan sacrifices.
The seasons, cold and heat, the sun, the moon, the stars, and drought.
The five rites are the rites appropriate to each of the five feudal ranks; the five jewels
are the jewelled tokens of enfeoffment for each rank. The two live offerings are lambs,
presented by the high ministers, and wild geese, presented by the lesser officials. The one dead
offering is pheasants, presented by the shi, or lesser nobility.
Feng and Shan Sacrifices
month he journeyed west on a tour of inspection and made a visit to
the Western Peak. (The Western Peak is Mt. Hua.) In the eleventh
month he journeyed north on a tour of inspection and made a visit to
the Northern Peak. (The Northern Peak is Mt. Hengg.)
At all of these,
he performed the same rites that he had at Daizong. (The Central Peak
is Mt. Songgao.) Once every five years he made these inspection
Emperor Yu, the founder of the Xi a dynasty, who succeeded Emperor Shun,
followed this same procedure. Later, however, the fourteenth ruler of the
dynasty, Emperor Kongjia, who practised evil ways and was too fond of
supernatural affairs, committed sacrilege before the spirits, and the two dragons,
sent to his court from Heaven, took their departure.
Three generations later, Tang, the founder of the Shang dynasty, attacked
and overthrew Jie, the last ruler of the Xia. Tang's followers wished to move
the altars of the Xi a rulers to their own territory, but Tang made the "Altars of
Xia", a declaration proclaiming to them the reasons why this was impossible.
Eight generations after Tang, when Emperor Taiwu came to the throne of the
Shang dynasty, a mulberry and a paper mulberry sprang up together in the court
of his palace and in the space of one night grew so large that a person could not
reach around them with his arms. The emperor was frightened, but his minister
Yi Zhi said, "Evil omens cannot prevail over virtue!" Then Emperor Taiwu
strove for greater virtue in his rule and the two mulberries died. Yi Zhi praised
the emperor to the shaman Xian. It was at this time that the shaman Xian came
to power.
Fourteen generations later, Emperor Wuding succeeded in obtaining Fu
Yue as his minister and the Shang dynasty was once more restored to glory. In
recognition of this Emperor Wuding was given the posthumous title of Great
Patriarch. Once a pheasant came and climbed up on the ear of the emperor's
Though the two characters are pronounced alike in modern Chinese, this Mt. Heng is
written with an entirely different character from the southern Mt. Heng above. To distinguish
them I have written the second "Heng" with two g' s.
According to the version of the legend in Shi ji 2, "The Basic Annals of the Xia Dynasty",
Heaven sent a pair of dragons to the court of Emperor Kongjia. but the emperor, not knowing
how to feed them, turned them over to one of hi s barons to take care of. When the female of
the pair died, the dragon keeper gave the emperor its flesh to eat. But here Sima Qian seems
to have some other version of the tale in mind.
Said to have been a section of the Book of Documents, now lost.
6 Han Dynasty II
sacriftcial cauldron and crowed. Wuding was afraid, but his minister Zu Ji said,
"Only strive for virtue!" Wuding, by following this advice, was able to occupy
his throne during a long and peaceful reign.
Five generations later, Emperor Wuyi defied the spirits and as a result he
was killed by thunder. Three generations later, Emperor Zhou gave himself up
to licentiousness and evil, until King Wu of the Zhou dynasty attacked and
overthrew him.
From this we may see that the rulers at the beginning of each new dynasty
never failed to conduct themselves with awe and reverence, but that their
descendants little by little sank into indolence and vain pride.
The Offices ofZhou says:
"At the winter solstice a sacrifice shall be made
to Heaven in the southern suburbs in order to greet the arrival of lengthening
days. At the summer solstice a sacrifice shall be made to the Earth God. At both
ceremonies music and dances shall be performed. Thus one may pay respect to
the spirits."
The Son of Heaven sacrifices to all the famous mountains and great rivers
of the empire. He regards the Five Peaks as his high ministers and the four great
watercourses as his feudal lords. The feudal lords sacrifice only to the famous
1110untains and great rivers that are within their respective domains. The four
watercourses are the Yangtze, the Yellow River, the Huai, and the Ji. The halls
of state of the Son of Heaven are called the Bright Hall and the Water-encircled
Hall. Those of the feudal lords are called Proclamation Palaces.
After the duke of Zhou became minister to King Cheng, the third ruler of
the Zhou dynasty, he sacrificed to his distant ancestor Hou Ji, the Lord of Grain,
in the southern suburb, treating him as the equal of Heaven; and in the Bright
Hall he sacrificed to the founder of the dynasty, his father King Wen, treating
him as the equal of the Lord on High. From the time of Emperor Yu on, there
had always been sacrifices performed to the altars of the soil and, since Hou Ji
taught the people how to grow grain, there were also offerings made to him.
Thus the sacrifices to Hou Ji in the southern suburb and the sacrifices to the
altars of the soil date from very ancient times.
The Zhou kings overthrew the Shang and founded a new dynasty but, during
the fourteen generations of rulers which followed, the power of the Zhou
gradually waned, its rites and music fell into disuse, and the feudal lords
Also known as The Rites ofZhou. But the present text of this work does not contain any
passage exactly like this. Perhaps Sima Qian is summarizing rather than quoting.
F eng and Shan Sacrifices 7
conducted themselves in any way they pleased. Finally, after King You of the
Zhou had been defeated by the Dog Rong barbarians, the dynasty moved its
capital east to the city of Luo (yang). Duke Xiang of the state of Qin came to
the rescue of the Zhou by attacking the barbarians and for the ftrst time a ruler
of Qin was made a feudal lord of the Zhou dynasty on an equal footing with the
lords of the other states (771 BC).
After Dulce Xiang of Qin had become a feudal lord, since his domain was
on the western border of the empire, he adopted the spirit of Shaogao as his
patron deity and set up the so-called Altar ofthe West where he offered sacrifices
to the White Emperor.
For sacrifices he used a red colt with a black mane, a
yellow ox, and a ram.
Sixteen years later, when Duke Wen ofQin went east to hunt between the
Qian and Wei rivers, he consulted hls diviners to find out whether he should
make his home in the region and was given a favourable answer. Duke Wen
dreamed that he saw a yellow serpent dangling down from heaven and touching
the ground, and its mouth came to rest in the Vale of Fu. When he consulted the
historian Dun about his dream, Dun replied, "This is a sign from the Lord on
High. You should offer sacrifices here!" The duke thereupon constructed the
Altar of Fu where he conducted the suburban sacrifice to the White Emperor,
using the three animals mentioned above. (Before the Altar of Fu had been
constructed, there already existed in the region of Yong a Wu Altar on the
southern side of Mt. Wu and a Hao Altar east of Yong, but both had fallen into
disuse and no sacrifices were offered there. Some people claimed that, because
the province of Yang occupied a region of highlands and provided a suitable
place for spiritual beings to make their home, these altars had from ancient times
been established there and suburban sacrifices offered to the Lord on High. Thus
the places of worship of all the spirits came to be concentrated in this area. Such
sacrifices had been conducted in the time of the Yellow Emperor, people
claimed, and therefore, although it was now the declining years of the Zhou
dynasty, there was no reason why suburban sacrifices should not be carried out
in the same places. No evidence for these assertions could be found in the
Shaogaa was one of the mythical rulers of antiquity and was regarded as the guardian
deity of the White Emperor, the god of the west. Eventually five of these heavenly emperors
were recognized: the Green Emperor of the east, the Red Emperor of the south, the White
Emperor of the west, the Black Emperor of the north and the Yellow Emperor of the centre,
associated with the elements wood, fire, metal, water, and earth respectively.
8 Han Dynasty 11
classical texts, however, and for this reason men of learning refused to lend them
any credence.)
Nine years after the construction of the Altar of Fu, Duke Wen came into
possession of some stone-like objects which he placed in a shrine on the northern
slopes ofChencang and sacrificed to. The spirits of the objects sometimes would
not appear for a whole year, while at other times they would come several times
in the year. They always appeared at night, shedding a brilliant light like
shooting stars, coming from the southeast, and gathering on the wall of the
shrine. They looked like roosters and made a screeching sound so that the fowl
in the fields about began to crow in answer, although it was the middle of the
night. Duke Wen made an offering of one set of sacrificial animals
and called
the objects 'The Treasures of Chen".
Seventy-eight years after the construction of the Altar ofFu, Duke De came
to the throne of Qin. Consulting the arts of divination as to whether he should
go to live in the region of Yong, he was told that "in ages to come your sons and
grandsons shall water their horses in the Yellow River".
He therefore trans-
ferred his capital to Yong, and the various places of worship in Yong began
from this time to prosper. He offered 300 sets
of sacrificial animals at the Altar
of Fu, instituted sacrifices to quell baneful influences, and had dogs sacrificed
at the four gates of the capital to prevent the entrance of evil and disaster. Duke
De died two years after he came to the throne. Six years later Duke Xuan of Qin
set up the Mi Altar south of the Wei River, where he sacrificed to the Green
Fourteen years later Duke Mu came to the throne of Qin. Falling ill one
time, he lay unconscious for five days, and when he awoke he reported that he
had seen the Lord on High in a dream. The Lord on High had ordered him to
pacify the revolt in the state of Jin. The historians at his court made a record of
the event and stored it away in the treasury. Thus later ages all say, "Duke Mu
of Qin ascended to Heaven".
Nine years after Duke Mu came to the throne of Qin, Duke Huan of Qi
made himself leader of the feudal states and summoned all the lords to a
A set of sacrificial animals consisted of an ox, a sheep, and a pig.
Yong was the region west of the Yellow River which became the site of the Qindynasty
capital, Xianyang, and later of the Han capital. Chang' an.
Three hundred sets is a prodigious number of sacrificial animals and some commenta-'
tors would amend the text to read "three sets of white animals [the characters for ' white' and
'hundred' are similar)," since the Altar of Fu was dedicated to the White Emperor.
Fen!( and Shan Sacrifices 9
conference at Sunflower Hill. At this time he proposed to carry out the Feng and
Shan sacrifices, but his minister Guan Zhong said: "It is related that in the past
the rulers of seventy-two houses performed the Feng sacrifice at Mt. Tai and
the Shan sacrifice at Liangfu, though I can find the names of only twelve of
these in the records. In the most ancient times, Wu Huai performed the Feng at
Mt. Tai and the Shan at Yunyun, and the same was done by Fu Xi, Shen Nong,
and the Fire Emperor. The Yellow Emperor performed the Feng at Mt. Tai and
the Shan at Tingling. Emperors Zhuan Xu, Ku, Yao, and Shun all performed the
Feng at Mt. Tai and the Shan at Yunyun, while Emperor Yu, the founder of the
Xia, performed the Feng at Mt. Tai and the Shan at Kuaiji. Tang, the founder
of the Shang, performed the Feng at Mt. Tai and the Shan at Yunyun, while
King Cheng, the ruler of the Zhou, performed the Feng at Mt. Tai and the Shan
at Sheshou. All of these had first to receive the mandate of Heaven to rule before
they could perform these sacrifices."
Duke Huan replied, "I have marched north to attack the mountain barbar-
ians, past the land of Guzhu. In the west I have attacked the Great Xia, crossing
the drifting sands and, binding tight my horses and strapping together the
carriages, have ascended Bi'er Mountain. In the south I have invaded as far as
Shaoling, and climbed the Bear's Ear Mountain to gaze out o ~ ~ ; - t h e Yangtze
and the Han rivers. Three times I have met with the other lords in war
conferences and six times I have met with them in times of peace. Nine times I
have called together the other feudal lords to order the affairs of the empire.
None of the others lords dares to disobey me. How then am I different frorn the
rulers of the Three Dynasties of antiquity with their mandates of Heaven?"
Guan Zhong saw that he could not dissuade Duke Huan from his intentions
by such arguments and so he brought forward the following stipulations: "In
ancient times when the Feng and Shan were performed, millet from Huoshang
and grain from Beili were used as offerings. A certain kind of reed which grows
between the Huai and Yangtze rivers and has three ridges was used to spread
the grain offerings on. Fish were brought from the eastern sea having two eyes
on one side of their heads, and pairs of birds from the western sea whose wings
were grown together. In addition there were fifteen kinds of strange creatures
which appeared of their own accord without being summoned. Now the phoenix
and the unicorn have not come to our court and the auspicious grain does not
spring up, but instead only weeds and brambles, tares and darnel, while kites
and owls appear in swarms. Is it not unthinkable at such a time to attempt to
perform the Feng and Shan sacrifices?" With this Duke Huan abandoned his
10 Han Dynasty ll
This same year Duke Mu of Qin sent his soldiers to escort Prince Yi wu of
Jin, who was in exile, back to his state and set him up as duke of Jin. By his
support Duke Mu thus made it possible for Prince Yiwu, who became Duke Hui
of J in, as well as the two succeeding rulers, Duke Huai and Duke Wen, to secure
the throne of Jin. In this way he brought an end to the internal troubles in the
state of Jin. Duke Mu of Qin died in the thirty-ninth year of his rule.
Some hundred years later, when Confucius was teaching and transmitting
the Six Classics, he is reported to have said something to the effect that there
had been over seventy rulers in the past who, on assuming new surnames and
becoming kings, had performed the Feng at Mt. Tai and the Shan at Liangfu.
He added, however, that the details of the rituals which they followed were far
from clear and that it was impossible to say much about them. When someone
asked him the meaning of the Great Sacrifice to the ancestors of the ruler,
Confucius replied, "I do not know. If anyone knew the meaning of the Great
Sacrifice, he would find it as easy to govern the empire as to look at the palm
of his hand!"
While Emperor Zhou, the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, still occupied the
throne, King Wen received the mandate of Heaven to found a new dynasty, but
his rule did not extend as far as Mt. Tai. His son, King Wu, finally overthrew
the Shang dynasty, but passed away two years later before the empire had been
brought to peace. It was his son "King Cheng who first manifested the virtue of
the house of Zhou to the world."
King Cheng was therefore quite correct in
performing the Feng and Shan sacrifices. Later, when the ministerial families
of the feudal states came to exercise the power of government in place of their
lords, however, the Ji family of the state of Lu sacrificed to Mt. Tai; such
impertinence was severely condemned by Confucius.
At about the same time as Confucius there lived a certain Chang Hong who
served King Ling of the Zhou dynasty with his magical arts. By this time none
of the feudal lords troubled to journey to the Zhou court to pay their respects
and the power of the Zhou had waned sadly. Chang Hong therefore lectured the
king on matters pertaining to the spirits and persuaded him to hang up the head
of a wildcat and use it as a target for archery. The wildcat's head symbolized
. . f I I
The quotation 1s rom Analects I I, I.
The passage in quotation marks differs in style from the rest of the narrative and appears
to be a quotation. The words "the Book of Odes says," which appear erroneously in the text
shortly before this, perhaps belong here.
Feng and Shan Sacrifices II
the fact that the feudal lords did not come to court, and Chang Hong thus hoped
by the use of this strange object to induce the lords to appear.
The lords,
however, were not persuaded by this device, and later the men of Jin captured
Chang Hong and murdered him. Chang Hong was the first among the men of
Zhou to expound the use of such magical arts.
Some hundred years later Duke Ling of Qin constructed on the southern
side ofMt. Wu an Upper Altar, where he sacrificed to the Yellow Emperor, and
a Lower Altar, where he sacrificed to the Fire Emperor. Forty-eight years later
Dan, the grand historian of the Zhou court, while visiting Duke Xian of Qin,
made the statement: "Qin was originally joined with Zhou, but later they
separated. After 500 years, however, they shall be joined again, and seventeen
years after they are joined, a dictator king shall come forth!"
A rain of metal fell at Yueyang, and Duke Xi an of Qin, deciding that this
was an auspicious sign of the power of the element metal, set up the Garden
Altar at Yueyang, where he offered sacrifices to the White Emperor.
One hundred and twenty years later the state of Qin wiped out the Zhou
dynasty and the nine sacred cauldrons of the Zhou were carried off to Qin. Some
people, however, claim that the cauldrons were sunk in the Si River where it
flows past the city of Pengcheng and that this took place at the time of the
destruction of the Song state's altars of the soil at Big Hill, 115 years before the
time when Qin conquered the empire.
After the First Emperor of the Qin had united the world and proclaimed
himself emperor, someone advised him, saying, "The Yellow Emperor ruled by
the power of the element earth, and therefore a yellow dragon and a great
earthworm appeared in his time. The Xia dynasty ruled by the power of wood,
and so a green dragon came to rest in its court and the grasses and trees grew
luxuriantly. The Shang dynasty ruled by metal, and silver flowed out of the
mountains. The Zhou ruled by fire, and therefore it was given a sign in the form
of a red bird. Now the Qin has replaced the Zhou, and the era of the power of
water has come. In ancient times when Duke Wen of Qin went out hunting, he
captured a black dragon. This is an auspicious omen indicating the power of the
element water." For this reason the First Emperor of the Qin changed the name
Commentators disagree as to just why the wildcat's head had this symbolic meaning;
some claim it is because another name for the wildcat is bulai, literally "not-come". In any
event there was some kind of sympathetic magic involved in the use of the wildcat's head.
Interpretations of this prophecy vary, but it is obviousl y intended to refer to the First
Emperor of the Qin dynasty.
12 Han Dynasty II
of the Yellow River to "Powerful Water". He began his year with the tenth
month, honoured the colour black, and used the number six, the number of the
element water, as a standard for all his measurements. Among the musical tubes
he selected Da/U for the greatest honour, and in all his government affairs -he
put laws before everything else.
Three years after he assumed the imperial title the First Emperor made a
tour of the eastern provinces and districts. He performed a sacrifice at Mt. Yi in
Zou and there set up a stone marker lauding the achievements of the Qi.n. He
then summoned seventy Confucian masters and scholars from Qi and Lu to meet
with him at the foot of Mt. Tai, where the scholars began to debate the proper
procedure for carrying out the Feng and Shan sacrifices. "In ancient times when
the Feng and Shan were performed," said some of them, "the wheels of the
carriages were wrapped in rushes so as not to doany injury to the earth and grass
of the mountain. The ground was swept clean and sacrifices performed, using
rushes and peeled stalks of grain for mats. The ceremony, it is said, was very
easy to carry out." But as the First Emperor listened to the debates of the
scholars, he found that each of them expressed a different opinion and their
recommendations were difficult to carry out, and with this he dismissed the
whole lot.
Eventually he had a carriage road opened up, ascending from the southern
foot of the mountain to the summit, where he set up a stone marker praising his
own virtue as First Emperor of the Qin. This he did to make clear to all that he
had succeeded in performing the Feng sacrifice. From the summit he descended
by a road leading down the northern slope and carried out the Shan sacrifice at
Liangfu. In both of these ceremonies he followed on the whole the procedure
used by the master of invocations in sacrificing to the Lord on High at Y ong,
but the directions for the ritual were sealed and stored away, being kept strictly
secret, so that none of the men of the time were able to record any description
of the ceremonies.
When the First Emperor was ascending Mt. Tai he encountered a violent
wind and rain storm halfway up the slope and had to stop for a while under a
large tree. The Confucian scholars, who had been dismissed and were not
allowed to take part in the ritual of the Feng sacrifice, hearing of the emperor's
Supposedly because water is associated with the dark power, yin, the force of punish-
ment and death, though actually it was because he was a follower of the Legalist philosophy
of government.
F eng and Shan Sacrifices 13
encounter with the storm, promptly used it as a basis to speak ill of hint
The First Emperor then proceeded east on his journey as far as the borders
of the sea, stopping along the way to perform rituals and sacrifices to the various
famous mountains and great rivers and to the Eight Spirits, and searching for
immortal spirits such as Xianmen and his companions.
The Eight Spirits appear to have existed from ancient times. Some people
say that their worship was begun at the time of the Grand Duke, the first lord of
the state of Qi at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty.
But since the sacrifices
were later discontinued, no one knows exactly when they originated.
Of the Eight Spirits, the first was called the Lord of Heaven; sacrifices to
him were offered at the Navel of Heaven. The Navel of Heaven, or Tianqi, is
the name of a spring situated at the foot of a mountain in the southern suburbs
of the city of Linzi. It is said that the state of Qi takes its name from this place.
The second was called Lord of the Land and was sacrificed to at Liangfu
near Mt. Tai. It appears that since Heaven loves the yin, the principle of darkness,
it must be worshipped at the foot of a high mountain or on top of a small hill, at
a place called an "Altar"; while because Earth honours the yang, the principle
of light, the sacrifices to it must always be conducted on a round hill in the midst
of a lowland.
The third spirit was called Lord of Arms and was worshipped by offering
sacrifices to Chi You.
The grave of Chi You is situated in the Lujian district
in the province of Dongping, on the western border of the state of Qi.
The fourth was called Lord of the Yin and was worshipped at Three
Mountains. The fifth was called Lord of the Yang and was worshipped at Zhifu.
The sixth was called Lord of the Moon and was worshipped at Mt. Lai. All these
places mentioned above are in the northern part of Qi along the Gulf of Bohai.
The seventh spirit was called Lord of the Sun and was worshipped at Mt.
Cheng. Mt. Cheng juts out into the ocean like the handle of a dipper and is
situated in the farthest comer of northeastern Qi. The sacrifices were thus held
here in order to greet the sun as it rose from the sea. The eighth was called Lord
of the Four Seasons and was worshipped at Langya. Langya is in the eastern
part of Qi. It is said that at the beginning of each year sacrifices were offered at
The sentence which follows this in the original belongs a little farther on in the text.
That is, Heaven, representing the yang, the principle of light, fire, the male, loves its
opposite, the yin, the principle of darkness, water, the female; while Earth, like a good wife,
" h o n ~ ~ r s " its opposite, the yang.
A legendary warrior of antiquity.
14 Han Dynasty II
all of these places consisting of one set of sacrificial animals, though the jade
and silk offerings presented by the shamans and invocators who directed the
ceremonies were of various kinds and number.
From the time of Kings Wei and Xuan of Qi, the disciples of the philosopher
Zou Y an were very active in propounding their master's theory of the succession
of the five elements. When the ruler of Qin took the title of emperor, the men
of Qi accordingly explained to him this theory, and hence it was that the First
Emperor selected water as the patron element of his reign.
Song Wuji, Zhengbo Qiao, Chong Shang, Xianmen Gao, and Zui Hou were
all men of Y an who practised magic and followed the way of the immortals,
discarding their mortal forms and changing into spiritual beings by means of
supernatural aid. Zou Y an won fame among the feudal lords for his theories of
the yin and yang and the succession of the five elements, but the magicians who
lived along the seacoast of Qi and Y an, though they claimed to transmit his
teachings, were unable to understand them. Thus from this time there appeared
a host of men, too numerous to mention, who expounded all sorts of weird and
fantastic theories and went to any lengths to flatter the rulers of the day and to
ingratiate themselves with them.
From the age of Kings Wei and Xuan of Qi and King Zhao of Yan, men
were sent from time to time to set out to sea and search for the islands ofPenglai,
Fangzhang, and Yingzhou. These were three spirit mountains which were
supposed to exist in the Gulf of Bohai. They were not very far from the land of
men, it was said, but the difficulty was that, whenever a boat was about to touch
their shores, a wind would always spring up and drive it away. In the past, people
said, there had been men who succeeded in reaching them, and found them
peopled by fairy spirits who possessed the elixir of immortality. All the plants
and birds and animals of the islands were white, and the palaces and gates were
made of gold and silver. Seen from afar, the three spirit mountains looked like
clouds but, as one drew closer, they seemed instead to be down under the water.
In any event, as soon as anyone got near to them, the wind would suddenly come
and drag the boat away, so that in the end no one could ever reach them.
The rulers of the time were all roused to envy by such tales, and when the
First Emperor of the Qin united the empire under his sway and journeyed to the
sea, a countless throng of magicians appeared to tell him of these wonders. The
First Emperor decided that, even though he were to set out in person on the sea,
he would most likely be unable to reach the islands, and so he ordered his men
to gather together a number of youths and maidens and send them to sea to search
Feng and Shan Sacrifices 15
in his stead. The sea was soon full of boats, crisscrossing this way and that, and
when the parties returned without success they all used the wind as an excuse.
"We were unable to reach the islands," they reported, "but we could see them
in the distance!"
The following year the First Emperor again journeyed to the sea, going as
far as Langya; then, passing by Mt. Hengg, he returned to the capital by way of
Shangdang. Three years later he made a trip to Jieshi on the coast, at which time
he cross-examined the magicians who were supposed to have gone to sea to look
for the islands. He returned to the capital by way of Shang Province.
Five years after this he made a trip south to Mt. Xiang and from there went
to climb Mt. Kuaiji. He followed along the sea coast on his way back, hoping
to acquire some of the wonderful medicine of immortality brought from the
three spirit mountains in the sea. But his hopes were in vain. When he had gone
as far as Sandy Hill, he passed away.
The Second Emperor of the Qin made a tour east to Jieshi in the first year
of his reign (209 BC) and from there followed the sea coast south past Mt. Tai
as far as Kuaiji. At all these places he performed ceremonies and sacrifices, and
had new inscriptions carved on the sides of the stones set up by his father, the
First Emperor, in which he lauded his father's glorious achievements. This same
autumn the feudal lords rose in revolt against the Qin, and in his third year the
Second Emperor was assassinated. Thus the Qin dynasty fell just twelve years
after the First Emperor performed the Feng and Shan sacrifices. The Confucian
scholars loathed the Qin for having burned the Book of Odes and the Book of
Documents and mercilessly put to death the scholars who expounded them,
while the common people hated its harsh laws, so that the whole world rose up
in rebellion. At this time everyone began to speak ill of the Qin, saying, "When
the First Emperor ascended Mt. Tai, he was attacked by violent wind and rain
and thus was never really able to carry out the Feng and Shan sacrifices!" This
is an example, is it not, of a ruler who, though he did not possess the virtue
necessary to perform the sacrifices, yet proceeded to carry them out?
The rulers of the Three Dynasties of antiquity all resided in the region
between the Luo and Yellow rivers. Thus Mt. Song, which was nearby, was
called the Central Peak, while the other four peaks of North, South, East, and
West were situated in those directions respectively. The four watercourses were
all east of the mountains. When the Qin ruler assumed the title of emperor and
fixed his capital at Xianyang, however, it meant that all the five peaks and the
four watercourses were east of the capital.
16 Han Dynasty II
From the time of the ancient Five Emperors down to the Qin dynasty,
periods of strong central government alternated with periods of decay, and the
famous mountains and great rivers were sometimes in the possession of the
feudal lords and sometimes in the possession of the Son of Heaven. The rituals
employed in the worship of these places, therefore, were often changed and
varied from age to age. It is consequently impossible to give a detailed descrip-
tion of them all here.
When the First Emperor united the world, he instructed the officials in
charge of sacrifices to put into order the worship of Heaven and Earth, the
famous mountains, the great rivers, and the other spirits that had customarily
been honoured in the past. According to this new arrangement, there were five
mountains and two rivers east of Yao designated for sacrifice. The mountains
were the Great Hall (that is, Mt. Song), Mt. Hengg, Mt. Tai, Kuaiji, and Mt.
Xiang. The two rivers were the Ji and the Huai. In the spring offerings of dried
meat and wine were made to insure the fruitfulness of the year, and at the same
time prayers were offered for the melting of the ice. In the autumn prayers were
made for the freezing of the ice, and in the winter prayers and sacrifices were
offered to recompense the gods for their favour during the year. A cow and a
calf were invariably used as sacrifices, but the sacrificial implements and the
offerings of jade and silk differed with the time and place.
From Mt. Hua west, seven mountains and four rivers were designated. The
former were Mt. Hua, Mt. Bo (that is, Mt. Shuai), Mt. Yue, Mt. Qi, Wu Peak,
Crane Mound, and Mt. Du (that is, Mt. Wen in Shu). The rivers were the Yellow
River, which was worshipped at Linjin; the Mian, worshipped at Hanzhong; the
Jiao Deep, worshipped at Chaona; and the Yangtze, worshipped at Shu. Sacri-
fices were offered in the spring and autumn for the thawing and freezing of the
rivers, and in winter prayers of recompense the same as those for the mountains
and rivers of the east were made; a cow and calf were used as sacrifices, but the
implements and other offerings all differed. In addition the four great peaks of
Crane Mound, Qi, Wu, and Yue all received offerings of new grain. The
Treasures of Chen were worshipped at the season when they appeared. The
Yellow River was given an additional offering of thick wine. All of these, being
in the region ofYong near the capital of the emperor, were also given an offering
of a carriage and four red horses with black manes.
The Ba, Chan, Changshui, Feng, Lao, Jing, and Wei are all small rivers but,
since they are in the vicinity of Xianyang, they were all accorded the same
worship as the great rivers, though without the additions mentioned above.
F eng and Shan Sacrifices 17
Rivers such as the Qian, Luo, Two Deeps, and Mingze, and Mt. Pu and Mt.
Yuexu, though small in comparison to the other mountains and rivers, were also
accorded ceremonies of recompense, thawing, and freezing each year, though
the rituals used were not necessarily the same in all places.
In addition there were over l 00 shrines dedicated to the worship of the sun,
the moon, Orion, Antares, the Northern and Southern Dippers, Mars, Venus,
Jupiter, Saturn, the twenty-eight constellations, the Lord of the Wind, the Master
of the Rain, the Four Seas, the Nine Ministers, the Fourteen Ministers, the
Displayers, the Majestic Ones, the Transmitters, etc., at Yong/
To the west of the capital there were also some twenty or thirty places of
worship. In the region ofHu sacrifices were offered to the Son of Heaven of the
Zhou dynasty; in Xiagui to the Heavenly Spirit; and on the Feng and Hao rivers
to the Radiant One and the Round Lake of the Son of Heaven. At Bo in Du there
were three places of worship to the Lords of the Soil and the Stars of Long Life,
and in the Thatch Shrine of Y ong there was also a place for the worship of Lord
Du. Lord Du was a leading general of the Zhou dynasty in ancient times. Even
the most insignificant spirits of the region of Qin, if they displayed divine
powers, were worshipped with offerings at the appropriate seasons of the year,
but the Lords on High worshipped at the four Altars of Y ong were regarded as
the most honourable of the gods. The Treasures of Chen were also noteworthy
because their gleaming lights had the power to move the common people.
At the four Altars ofYong prayers were offered in the spring for a successful
crop and for the thawing of the waters; in the fall for the freezing of the waters;
and in the winter to thank the deities for their aid. In the fifth month colts were
sacrificed, and in the second month of each of the four seasons a "month"
sacrifice was held, similar to that offered at the season when the Treasures of
Chen appeared.
For this sacrifice red colts were used in spring and summer
and red colts with black manes for fall and winter. The colts sacrificed at the
Altars were always four in number, along with a belled chariot drawn by four
dragons and a regular chariot drawn by fourhorses, these last two both modelled
out of wood and painted the colour appropriate to the deity being sacrificed to.
Four yellow calves and four lambs were also sacrificed along with a specified
The Majestic Ones and Transmitters were apparently deities of the roads and fields,
though their identity is uncertain, as is that of the Ministers. Mercury has probabl y dropped
out of the list of planets and should be included.
Following the reading in Han shu 25A.
18 Han Dynasty II
number of jades and silks. All the sacrifices were buried alive in the ground and
no sacrificial implements such as stands or platters were used.
The suburban sacrifice was performed once every three years. Since the
Qin dynasty had designated the tenth month as the beginning of its year, it was
always in the tenth month that the emperor fasted and journeyed to the suburbs
to visit the deity. Beacon fires were raised at the place of worship, and the ruler
went to pay his respects outside the city of X ian yang. White was used for the
vestments, and the procedure followed was the same as that for ordinary
The sacrifices at the Altar of the West and the Garden Altar continued to
be observed as before, though the emperor did not go in person to perform them.
All of these places of worship were customarily under the jurisdiction of the
master of invocations, who saw to it that offerings and sacrifices were made at
the appropriate seasons of the year. As for the other famous mountains, great
rivers, gods and deities such as the Eight Spirits, if the emperor happened to be
passing by their places of worship, he performed sacrifices; otherwise, no
ceremonies were carried out. The spirits and holy places ofthe various provinces
and other distant regions were worshipped by the people of their respective
localities and were not under the control of the emperor's religious officials.
Among the religious officials of the court was one called the private invocator.
If any disaster or evil omen appeared, it was his duty to offer sacrifices with all
speed and pray that the blame for the mishap might be transferred from the ruler
to the officials or the people.
At the time of the founding of the Han, when Gaozu was still a commoner,
he once killed a great snake, whereupon a spirit appeared and announced, "This
snake was the son of the White Emperor and he who killed him is the son of the
Red Emperor!" When Gaozu first began his uprising, he offered prayers at the
altar of the soil at White Elm in the city of Feng, and after he had won control
of the district of Pei and become its governor he sacrificed to the warrior god
Chi You and anointed his drums and flags with the blood of the sacrifice.
Eventually, in the tenth month of the year, he reached Bashang, where he
joined with the other feudal lords in bringing order to the capital city of
Xianyang and was made king of Han. He therefore designated the tenth month
as the first month of the year and chose red as his patron colour.
In the second year of his reign (205 BC) he marched east to attack Xiang
Yu and then returned once more to the area within the Pass. There he inquired
what deities the Qin rulers had worshipped in their sacrifices to the Lords on
F eng and Shan Sacrifices 19
High and was told that there had been sacrifices to four deities, the White, the
Green, the Yellow, and the Red Emperors.
"But I have heard that there are Five Emperors in Heaven," said Gaozu.
"Why is it that the Qin rulers worshipped only four?"
When no one was able to offer an explanation, Gaozu replied, "I know the
reason. They were waiting for me to come and complete the five!" He accord-
ingly set up a place of worship for the Black Emperor, called the Altar of the
North, with officials appointed to carry out its sacrifices; Gaozu did not go in
person to perform sacrifices. He then summoned all of the former religious
officials of the Qin dynasty and restored the posts of master of invocations and
grand supervisor, ordering these officials to carry out the rites and ceremonies
as they had in the past. He also gave instructions for altars of the dynasty to be
erected in all the provinces and issued an edict saying, "I hold the places of
worship in highest regard and deeply respect the sacrifices. Whenever the time
comes for sacrifices to the Lord on High or for the worship of the mountains,
rivers, or other spirits, let the ceremonies be performed in due season as they
were in the past!"
Four years later, after peace had been restored to the empire, Gaozu issued
an edict to the imperial secretary instructing the officials of the city of Feng to
tend the altar of the soil at White Elm, performing ceremonies each season, with
a sacrifice of a sheep and a pig each spring. He also ordered the religious officials
to set up a place of worship to Chi You in the capital, Chang'an.
He appointed various officials for sacrifice and invocation in Chang'an, as
well as women shamans. The shamans from the region of Liang worshipped
such deities as Heaven and Earth, the Heavenly Altar, Heavenly Water, Within
the House, and In the Hall. Those from the region of Jin worshipped the Five
Emperors, the Lord of the East, the Lord in the Clouds, the Arbiter of Fate, the
Altar of the Shamans, the Kinsman of the Shamans, the Bringer of Fire, etc.
Those from Qin worshipped the Lord of the Altar, the Protector of Shamans,
the Family Imprisoned, etc. The shamans of Jing worshipped the deities Below
the Hall , Ancestor of Shamans, Arbiter of Fate, and Giver of Gruel.
shamans appointed especially for that purpose worshipped the Nine Heavens.
All of these performed their sacrifices at the appropriate seasons during the year
in the palace. The shamans of the Yellow River, however, performed their
The nature of most of these deities is obscure and the translations of their names in
many places only tentative.
Han Dynasty II
sacrifices at Linjin, while those of the Southern Mountains performed sacrifices
to these mountains and to Qinzhong. (Qinzhong is the spirit of the Second
Emperor of the Qin.) All these sacrifices were performed at specified months
and seasons.
Two years later someone advised the emperor, "At the beginning of the
Zhou dynasty, in the city of Tai, a place of worship was set up for Hou Ji, the
ancestor of the Zhou and god of agriculture, and from that time until today the
blood and flesh of the sacrifices have continued to be offered for the benefit of
the world." Gaozu accordingly issued an edict to the imperial secretary ordering
places of worship set up in all the provinces, districts, and feudal kingdoms,
called Shrines of the Sacred Star, and dedicated to Hou Ji, where oxen should
be sacrificed at the appropriate seasons each year.
In the spring of the tenth year of Gaozu's reign (197 BC) the officials
requested that the emperor order the districts to make offerings of a sheep and
a pig to the altars of the soil and grain in the third and twelfth months of each
year, the people in each district to raise the money for the sacrifices at their
respective local shrines. The emperor gave his approval.
Eighteen years later Emperor Wen came to the throne. In the thirteenth year
of his reign ( 167 BC) Emperor Wen issued an edict saying, "At the present time
the private invocator is delegated to pray that the blame for any faults committed
by me be transferred to himself or the lower officials. I find this practice wholly
unacceptable. From now on, let the post of private invocator be abolished!"
Originally it had been left to the religious officials of the feudal lords to
perform sacrifices and offerings to any of the famous mountains or great rivers
that happened to be within their domains; the officials of the emperor had no
jurisdiction over such affairs. When the kingdoms of Qi and Huainan were
temporarily abolished, however, Emperor Wen ordered his master of invoca-
tions to see to it that all the proper ceremonies were carried out in these regions
at the proper times as they had been in the past.
In this year the emperor issued a proclamation saying:
It has now been thirteen years since I came to the throne.
By the
aid of the spirits of the ancestral temples and the blessing of the altars
of the soil and grain, the land within the borders is at peace and my
In "The Basic Annals of Emperor Wen" this proclamation is dated in the fourteenth
year and reads, "It has now been fourteen years, etc".
Feng and Shan Sacrifices
people are without distress. Moreover, for the past several years the
empire has enjoyed good harvests. How could I, who am of no virtue,
be deserving of such fortune? Rather are these gifts, all of them, from
the Lord on High and the other spirits.
I have heard that in ancient times when a ruler enjoyed reward for
his virtue he invariably returned recompense to the gods for the merits
they had bestowed. Therefore I would increase the sacrifices to the
spirits. Let the officials open deliberations to increase the offerings at
the Five Altars of Y ong by the addition of a great chariot for each altar,
fitted out with full trappings; and for the Western and Garden altars,
one chariot each modelled in wood, with four wooden horses and full
trappings. Let the Yellow, Qiao, and Han rivers be granted an addition
of two pieces of j ade each, and at all the various places of worship
let the altars and altar grounds be broadened and the jades, silks, and
other sacrificial implements be increased as may be proper to each
At present when prayers are offered for blessing, it is asked that
all good fortune may come to me in person, while no mention is made
of my people. From now on let the invocations be carried out with all
reverence, but let there be no more such prayers for myself alone.
A man of Lu name Gongsun Chen submitted a letter to the throne stating,
"Formerly the Qin dynasty ruled by the power of the element water. Now that
the Han has succeeded the Qin it is obvious that it must rule by the power of the
element earth, since the cycle of the five elements revolves, going back to the
beginning when it has once ended. To confirm this, an omen of the power of
earth will appear in the form of a yellow dragon. It is proper, then, that the month
on which the year begins should be changed and the colour of the court
vestments altered to pay honour to the colour yellow."
The chancellor at this time was Zhang Cang, who was very fond of matters
of the pitch pipes and the calendar, and it was his contention that the Han
belonged to a period in which the power of water was in ascendancy. Proof of
this, he said, was to be found in the fact that the Yellow River had burst its dikes
at a place called Metal Embankment (i.e., water ascendant over metal). The Han
year should therefore begin with the tenth month, the first month of winter, and
the vestments should be black on the outside and red within, thus corresponding
to the element water. He declared that Gongsun Chen' s opinion was completely
false and the matter was allowed to drop.
Han Dynasty II
Three years later
a yellow dragon appeared at Chengji. Emperor Wen
thereupon summoned Gong sun Chen to court, made him an erudite, and set him
to work with the other court scholars drawing up plans to change the calendar
and the colour of the court vestments. In the summer the emperor issued an edict
saying, "A supernatural being in the form of a strange creature has appeared at
Chengji, but no harm will come to the people and the year will be a plentiful
one. I wish to perform the suburban sacrifice and offer prayers to the Lord on
High and the other spirits. Let the officials in charge of rites deliberate on the
matter and let them not hesitate in their recommendations for fear of putting me
to too much trouble."
The officials all replied, "In ancient times the Son of Heaven went in
summer to the suburbs to sacrifice in person to the Lord on High. Hence this
was called the suburban sacrifice."
In the summer of this year, in the fourth month, Emperor Wen for the first
time performed the suburban sacrifice, visiting the Five Altars of Yong and
worshipping there. His robes were all designed to honour the colour red.
A man of Zhao named Xinyuan Ping, appearing before the emperor to
report an unusual cloud formation he had seen, asserted that in the sky northeast
of Chang'an a supernatural emanation had appeared, made of five colours and
shaped like a man's hat.
"The northeast is the dwelling place of the spirits," suggested someone else,
"and the western region is where they have their graves. Now, since Heaven has
sent down this auspicious sign, it is right that places of worship should be set
up to offer sacrifices to the Lord on High in answer to this omen."
Accordingly the Temples of the Five Emperors were constructed north of
the Wei River. They were housed under a single roof, but each emperor had his
own hall of worship. Each of the five halls was fitted with a separate gate, painted
in the colour appropriate to the deity worshipped there. The animals sacrificed
and the ceremonies conducted were the same as those at the Five Altars ofYong.
In the summer, the fourth month, Emperor Wen went in person to pay his
respects to the confluence of the Ba and Wei rivers, and at the same time
performed the suburban sacrifice to the Five Emperors north of the Wei. The
temples of the Five Emperors overlooked the Wei River on the south, and to the
north channels had been cut to bring water into the Lake of Rushes. Beacon fires
But "The Basic Annals of Emperor Wen" dates this in the fifteenth year, only one year
F eng and Slum Sacrifices 23
were raised while the sacrifices were performed, their light pouring forth and
their flames seeming to reach to the heavens.
The emperor honoured Xinyuan Ping with the rank of superior lord and
presented him with several thousand pieces of gold. He also ordered the erudites
and court scholars to select material from the Six Classics and compose a work
on the institutes of the rulers, as well as to begin plans for an inspection tour of
the provinces and the performance of the Feng and Shan sacrifices.
As Emperor Wen was leaving the place called Long Gate he saw something
that looked like five men standing to the north of the road. Because of this he
had an altar to the Five Emperors set up on the spot, where he offered five sets
of sacrificial animals.
The following year Xinyuan Ping had a man bring a jade cup and present
it at the gate of the palace, along with a letter to the throne. Xinyuan Ping then
remarked to the emperor, "There are emanations in the sky which indicate that
someone has come to the palace gate with a precious object!" When a man was
sent to verify this announcement, it was found that a jade cup bearing the
inscription "Long Life to the Lord of Men" had in fact been presented at the
Another time Xinyuan Ping announced that, according to his observations,
the setting sun would stop in its course and ascend again to the centre of the sky.
After a little while the sun began to move backward until it had returned to the
meridian. Thereupon the emperor began to number the years of his reign over
again, making the seventeenth year the ftrst year of a new period, and ordered
great feasting throughout the empire.
Next Xinyuan Ping announced, "The cauldrons of the Zhou dynasty were
lost in the Si River. Now the Yellow River has overflowed and runs into the Si.
Observing the sky in the northeast, I note that there are certain emanations right
over Fenyin which indicate the presence of precious metal objects. That, I
believe, is where the cauldrons will be found. When such an omen appears,
however, unless some action is taken in response, nothing will ever come of it!"
The emperor therefore sent envoys to build a temple at Fenyin, overlooking
the Yellow River to the south, and offer sacrifices, hoping to bring the cauldrons
to light. At this time someone sent a letter revealing to the emperor that all of
the emanations and supernatural occurrences described by Xinyuan Ping were
frauds. Xinyuan Ping was handed over to the law officials for trial and was
executed, along with his three sets of relatives.
After this Emperor Wen lost interest in changing the calendar and the colour
Han Dynasty II
of the vestments and in matters concerning the spirits. He ordered his sacrificial
officials to see to the upkeep of the temples and altars of the Five Emperors
north of the Wei River and at Long Gate and to perform ceremonies at the proper
seasons, but he himself no longer visited them.
The following year the Xiongnu several times invaded the border and troops
were raised to guard against further incursions. During the last years of his reign
the harvests were not very plentiful.
A few years later Emperor Jing ascended the throne. During the sixteen
years of his reign the officials in charge of sacrifices continued to perform their
various duties at the appropriate seasons of the year, but no new forms of
worship were instituted. And so things continued to the reign of the present
When the present emperor first came to the throne, he showed the greatest
reverence in carrying out the sacrifices to the various spirits and gods. In the
first year of his reign ( 140 BC), because it had been over sixty years since the
founding of the Han, and the empire was at peace, the gentlemen of the court
all hoped that the emperor would perform the Feng and Shan sacrifices and
change the calendar and other regulations of the dynasty. The emperor favoured
the teachings of the Confucians and summoned to court a number of men who
were noted for their wisdom and good character. Among these were Zhao Wan,
Wang Zang, and others of their group, who were made officials because of their
literary accomplishments. These men wished to begin discussions on the estab-
lishment of a Bright Hall south of the capital, where the ruler would receive the
feudal lords in audience, as had been done in ancient times. They also drew up
rough plans for an imperial tour of inspection, the performance of the Feng and
Shan, alterations of the calendar and the colour of court vestments, etc. Before
any of these plans had been put into effect, however, the emperor's grandmother,
Empress Dowager Dou, who was a follower of Taoist teachings and had no use
for Confucianism, sent men in secret to spy on Zhao Wan and the rest and gather
evidence to show that they were deriving illegal profit from their posts. Zhao
Wan and Wang Zang were summoned to answer these charges, but both men
committed suicide and all the projects which they had sponsored were aban-
Six years later ( 135 BC) Empress Dowager Dou passed away and the
following year the emperor summoned to court a number of literary men such
as Gongsun Hong. The next year (133 BC) the emperor journeyed to Yong for
the first time to perform the suburban sacrifice at the Five Altars. From this time
F eng and Shan Sacrifices 25
on he invariably performed the suburban sacrifice once every three years.
At this time the emperor also sought out the Spirit Mistress and housed her
in the Tishi Tower in the Shanglin Park. The Spirit Mistress was originally a
woman of Changling who died in childbirth. Later her spirit appeared and took
possession of her brother's wife, W anruo. W anruo offered sacrifices to the spirit
in her house, and many people came to join in the worship. Lady Pingyuan, the
maternal grandmother of the present emperor, was among those who sacrificed
to the spirit, and later her sons and grandsons all became famous and honoured.
Thus when the present emperor came to the throne he treated the Spirit Mistress
with great reverence and transferred her place of worship to his own palace in
the Shanglin Park. It was said that one could hear the words spoken by the spirit
but could not see her form.
It was at this time also that Li Shaojun appeared before the emperor to
expound the worship of the god of the fireplace and explain his theories on how
to achieve immortality through dietary restrictions. The emperor treated him
with great respect. Li Shaojun had formerly been a retainer of the marquis of
Shenze and specialized in magical arts. He kept his real age and place of birth
a secret, always telling people that he was seventy years old. Claiming that he
could make the spirits serve him and prevent old age, he travelled about to the
courts of the various feudal lords, expounding his magic. He had no wife or
children. When people heard of his power to command the spirits and drive
away death they showered him with a constant stream of presents, so that he
always had more than enough food and clothing and money. Impressed that he
seemed to enjoy such affluence without engaging in any business, and also not
knowing where he was from, people put even greater faith in his claims and vied
with each other in waiting on him. He relied wholly on his ability to work magic
and was clever at making pronouncements that were later found to have been
curiously apt.
Once when he was staying with Tian Fen, the marquis of Wuan, and was
drinking with the marquis and his friends, he told one of the guests, an old man
of over ninety, that he had gone with the man's grandfather to such and such a
place to practi se archery. The old man had in fact, when he was a child,
accompanied his grandfather, and remembered visiting the place that Li Shaojun
mentioned. With this the whole party was struck with amazement.
When Li Shaojun appeared before the emperor, the latter questioned him
about an ancient bronze vessel which the emperor had in his possession. "This
vessel," replied Li Shaojun, "was presented at the Cypress Chamber in the tenth
Han Dynasty /1
year of the reign of Duke Huan of Qi (676 BC)." When the inscription on the
vessel was deciphered, it was found that it had in fact belonged to Duke Huan
of Qi . Everyone in the place was filled with astonishment and decided that Li
Shaojun must be a spirit who had lived hundreds of years.
Li Shaojun then advised the emperor, "If you sacrifice to the fireplace you
can call the spirits to you, and if the spirits come you can transform cinnabar
into gold. Using this gold, you may make drinking and eating vessels, which
will prolong the years of your life. With prolonged life you may visit the
immortals who live on the island of Penglai in the middle of the sea. If you visit
them and perform the Feng and Shan sacrifices, you will never die. This is what
the Yellow Emperor did. Once I wandered by the sea and visited Master Anqi ,
and he fed me jujubes as big as melons.
Master Anqi is an immortal who roams
about Penglai . If he takes a liking to someone he will come to meet him, but if
not he will hide."
As a result, the emperor for the first time began to sacrifice in person to the
fireplace. He dispatched magicians to set out on the sea in search of Master Anqi
and the immortals of Penglai , and attempted to make gold out of cinnabar sand
and various kinds of medicinal ingredients.
After some time, Li Shaojun fell ill and died. The emperor, however,
believed that he was not really dead but had transformed himself into a spirit,
and he ordered Kuan Shu, a clerk from Huangchui, to carry on the magical arts
which Li Shaojun had taught. None of the group sent out to search for Master
Anqi in the island of Penglai succeeded in finding anything.
After this, any number of strange and dubious magicians from the seacoast
of Yan and Qi appeared at court to speak to the emperor about supernatural
affairs. Among them was a man from Bo named Miu Ji who instructed the
emperor on how to sacrifice to the Great Unity. 'The Great Unity," he explained,
"is the most honoured of the spirits of Heaven and his helpers are the Five
Emperors. In ancient times the Son of Heaven sacrificed to the Great Unity each
spring and autumn in the southeastern suburbs, offering one set of sacrificial
animals each day for seven days. An altar was constructed for the purpose which
was open to the spirit roads of the eight directions."
The emperor accordingly ordered the master of invocations to set up such
a place of worship southeast of Chang'an where sacrifices were conducted
regularly according to the method described by Miu Ji.
Followiog the reading in Han shu 25A.
Feng and Shan Sacrifices 27
Later someone submitted a letter to the throne stating that in ancient times
the Son of Heaven had offered a set of sacrificial beasts once every three years
to the spirits called the Three Unities. These were the Heavenly Unity, the
Earthly Unity, and the Great Unity. The emperor gave his consent to the ritual
and ordered the master of invocations to see to it that such sacrifices were carried
out at Miu Ji 's altar of the Great Unity in the manner recommended.
Later someone again sent a letter to the throne advising that in ancient times
the Son of Heaven had always performed in the spring a ceremony to drive away
evil in which he sacrificed an owl and a broken mirror
to the Yellow Emperor;
a sheep to the god called Dark Ram; a blue stallion to the god Horse Traveller;
an ox to the Great Unity, the Lord of Mt. Ze, and the Earth Elder; a dried fish
to the lords of Wuyi; and an ox to the Messenger of the Yin and Yang. The
emperor gave orders to the religious officials to see that such sacrifices were
performed in the recommended manner at the side of Miu Ji 's altar to the Great
Some time afterwards white deer appeared in the emperor's park. He had
their hides made into a type of currency which he issued in order to make known
this auspicious omen, and also had currency minted out of white metal.
The following year (122 BC) when the emperor went to Yong to perform
the suburban sacrifice he captured a beast with one hom which looked like a
unicorn. The officials announced, "Since Your Majesty has performed the
suburban sacrifice with such reverence and care, the Lord on High has seen fit
to reward you by presenting this one-homed beast. Is this not what is called a
The emperor thereupon visited the Five Altars and presented an additional
burnt offering of an ox at each one. He presented the white metal coins, symbolic
of the auspicious white deer, to the various feudal lords as a hint to them that
he had by now received the necessary omens proving that he had found favour
with Heaven.
The king of Jibei, assuming from these moves that the emperor was about
to perform the Feng and Shan sacrifices, sent a letter to the throne in which he
presented to the emperor Mt. Tai and the surrounding cities, which were situated
in his domains. The emperor accepted the gift and conferred upon the king a
According to some commenta!ors "broken mirror" is the name of a beast which eats
its own father. The owl is infamous in Chinese lore for eating its mother, and these two
creatures were therefore offered in order to prevent unfilial behaviour.
Han Dynasty II
district elsewhere by way of compensation. The king ofChangshan was accused
of some crime and transferred to another region. The emperor enfeoffed the
king's younger brother in the region ofZhending so that he might carry on there
the sacrifices to the forrner kings of Changshan, and made the region of
Chang shan, where Mt. Hengg is situated, into a province. Thus it was that, after
these two events, all the regions in which the Five Peaks were situated came
under the direct jurisdiction of the emperor.
The following year a man ofQi named Shaoweng gained the emperor's ear
with his tales of ghosts and spirits. The emperor had forrnerly had a favourite
concubine named Madam Wang who had died. It is said that Shaoweng by his
magical arts succeeded in summoning forth at night the apparitions of Madam
Wang and the god of the frreplace, while the emperor stood within a curtained
enclosure and gazed at them from afar. The emperor accordingly honoured
Shaoweng with the title of General of Peaceful Accomplishment and rewarded
him with lavish gifts, treating him with the courtesy due to an imperial guest.
Shaoweng then said to the emperor, "I perceive that Your Majesty wishes
to commune with the spirits. But unless your palaces and robes are patterned
after the shapes of the spirits, they will not consent to come to you." He fashioned
five chariots, symbolizing the five elements and painted with cloud designs, and
on the days when each of the five elements was in ascendancy, he would mount
the appropriate chariot and ride about, driving away evil demons. He also
directed the emperor to build the Palace of Sweet Springs, in which was a terrace
chamber painted with pictures of Heaven, Earth, the Great Unity, and all the
other gods and spirits. Here Shaoweng set forth sacrificial vessels in an effort
to summon the spirits of Heaven.
A year or so passed, however, and Shaoweng's magical arts seemed to
grow less and less effective, for no spirits appeared to answer his summons.
He then wrote a message on a piece of silk and fed it to an ox and, pretending
to know nothing of the mater, announced to the emperor, "There appears to
be some strange object in this ox's belly!" The ox was slaughtered and its
belly opened, revealing the piece of silk, and the words written on it were
exceedingly strange. The emperor, however, recognized the handwriting and,
when he cross-examined Shaoweng, discovered that the message was in fact a
fraud. He had Shaoweng executed but kept the matter a secret. Following this
he built the Terrace of Cypress Beams with the Bronze Pillars, and atop them
the Immortals holding in their palms the Pans for Receiving Dew, and similar
Feng and Shan Sacrifices 29
The year after Shaoweng's execution (118 BC) the emperor was taken
gravely ill at Cauldron Lake and, though all the doctors and shamans were
summoned to attend him, none could cure his sickness. Earlier, a man of
Youshui named FaGen had advised the emperor that in the province of Shang
there lived a shamaness who, when ill, became possessed by spirits. The
emperor had accordingly summoned the shamaness to the Palace of Sweet
Springs and set up a place of worship for her. When the emperor later fell ill at
Cauldron Lake he sent someone to consult the Spirit Mistress through the
shamaness, who returned this answer: "The Son of Heaven need not worry about
his illness. When he is a little better he should make an effort to come and meet
with me at Sweet Springs!"
After this the emperor's illness improved somewhat until he was able to
rise from his bed and journey to Sweet Springs. There he recovered completely
and proclaimed a general amnesty to the empire. He set up the Temple of Long
Life dedicated to the Spirit Mistress. The Spirit Mistress was accorded honour
equal to that of the Great Unity.
Her helpers were called the Great Forbidden
Ones, and it was said that the other deities such as the Arbiter of Fate were all
her attendants. It was impossible to catch a glimpse of her forrn, but her words
could be heard, sounding the same as a human voice. At times she went away
and at other times returned, and when she came, the wind made a sighing sound.
She dwelt within the curtains of the chamber and spoke sometimes during the
day, though usually at night. The emperor would always perforrn rites of
ablution before entering her presence and there, through the offices of the
shamaness, he would eat and drink with the deity as though she were his host.
Whatever the spirit wished to say to him she would relay by way of the
shamaness. The emperor also set up another temple north of the Temple of Long
Life, where he hung feathered banners and set out the implements of sacrifice
to perforrn ceremonies in honour of the Spirit Mistress. Whenever the Spirit
Mistress spoke, the emperor ordered his secretaries to take down the words,
calling these messages his "Planning Laws". There was nothing the least bit
extraordinary about the words of the deity, which were the sort of thing that
anyone at all could say, but the emperor alone took great delight in them. The
whole affair, however, was kept secret so that most people at the time knew
nothing about it.
Three years later (114 BC) the officials advised the emperor, saying, "When
The text at this point seems to be cormpt and the translation is highly tentative.
Han Dynasty JJ
a ruler begins the numbering of the years of his reign over again, he should not
call the periods merely 'frrst', 'second', etc., but should select names from the
auspicious omens that have appeared at the time. Thus the first period of Your
Majesty's reign should be cal!edjianyuan or 'Establishment Period'; the second,
when the comet appeared, should be called yuanguang, or 'Period of Light';
and the third, when the one-homed beast was captured at the time of the
suburban sacrifice, should be called yuanshou, or ' Hunting Period'. "
In the winter of the following year ( 113 BC) the emperor performed the
suburban sacrifice at Yong. He called his officials into conference and said, "I
have now performed the suburban sacrifice in person to the Lord on High. But
unless I also sacrifice to the Earth Lord, I fear these ceremonies will have no
The officials debated with the grand historian
and the minister in charge
of sacrifices, Kuan Shu, and made the following announcement: "In the past, at
the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth, oxen with horns as small as silk cocoons or
chestnuts were used. Now if Your Majesty wishes to sacrifice in person to the
Earth Lord, it is necessary to set up five altars on a round hill in the middle of
a swamp. At each altar a yellow calf and a set of three sacrificial animals should
be offered, and when the ceremony is completed these should all be buried in
the earth. All persons attending the ceremony should wear vestments honouring
the colour yellow."
The emperor then journeyed east and for the first time set up the altar to the
Earth Lord on top of Rump Hill in Fenyin as Kuan Shu and the others had
recommended. There he personally performed worship ceremonies, following
the same ritual as that used for the Lord on High. When the ceremony was
completed the emperor proceeded to Xingyang and from there returned to the
When he passed through Luoyang the emperor issued an edict which read:
"The Three dynasties of antiquity are far removed in time and it is difficult at
this day to make provisions for the preservation of their lines. Since Luoyang
Emperors Wen and Jing had both begun the numbering of the years of their reigns over
again several times, but no particular titles had been given to the periods of numbering. This
was the first time that nianhao or "era names" were used. The practice was continued
throughout later Chinese history and was imitated in Japan and Annam.
Sima Tan, the father of Sima Qian.
Feng and Shan Sacrifices 31
was the capital of the Zhou dynasty, let thirty li of land here be set aside as a
fief for the descendant of the Zhou rulers so that, with the title of Lord Zinan of
Zhou, he may carry out sacrifices to his ancestors."
This year the emperor for the first time made a tour of the provinces and
districts and visited Mt. Tai.
In the spring the marquis of Lecheng sent a letter to the throne recommend-
ing a man named Luan Da. Luan Da was a palace attendant of the king of
Jiaodong. Originally he had studied under the same teacher as Shaoweng, the
magician whom the emperor had executed, and later he became the master of
magical arts to King Kang, the king of Jiaodong. King Kang's queen was the
elder sister of the marquis of Lecheng. She had no children, however, and when
King Kang died, one of his sons by a concubine was made king to succeed him.
The queen was a woman of loose conduct and was on very poor terms with the
new king; the two of them were constantly searching for some legal excuse to
trip each other up. When the queen heard that the magician Shaoweng had been
executed, she hoped to ingratiate herself with the emperor by dispatching Luan
Da to the capitaL She therefore enlisted the aid of her brother, the marquis of
Lecheng, to help Luan Da gain an audience with the emperor so that he could
expound his magic. The emperor, after having executed Shaoweng, began to
regret that he had been so hasty with the death sentence and had not given the
magician an opportunity to finish displaying his powers. He was therefore
extremely delighted to see Luan Da.
Luan Da was tall and handsome and full of magical schemes and strata-
gems. He did not hesitate to come out with the most grandiose pronouncements
and never betrayed any sign that he doubted the truth of what he was saying. "I
once travelled far and wide over the sea," he informed the emperor, "and visited
Anqi, Xianmen, and the other immortals. But they all considered me a man of
humble station and would not confide in me. Also, because I served King Kang,
who was only one of the feudal lords, they considered that I was not worthy to
receive their teachings. I often spoke to King Kang about the matter, but he
would not listen to my suggestions. My teacher had told me that gold could
definitely be made from cinnabar, that the break in the dikes ofthe Yellow River
could be repaired, the elixir of immortal life made, and the immortals persuaded
to appear. But I was afraid that if I mentioned these things, I would meet the
same fate as Shaoweng. This is the reason I and all the other magicians have
kept our mouths closed. How could I dare under the circumstances to discuss
my magic?"
Han Dynasty II
"As for Shaoweng," said the emperor, "he happened to eat some horse liver
and died, that was all.
But if you can really carry on his magic arts, what will
I not give you?"
Luan Da replied, "My teacher has no reason to seek for men. It is men who
seek for him. If Your Majesty really wishes to summon him, then you must first
honour the envoys that you send to him, making them members of the imperial
and treating them as guests rather than subjects, doing nothing that
would humiliate them. If you grant each of the envoys the imperial seals, they
may go and speak to the spirit man. Whether or not he will consent to give ear,
I do not know, but I believe that if you confer sufficient honours upon the envoys
you send, then he may be persuaded to come."
In order to test Luan Da, the emperor instructed him to give a minor
display of his magical powers by making some chessmen fight. When the board
was set up, the chessmen were seen to rush against each other of their own
At this time the emperor was very worried about the break in the dikes of
the Yellow River and concerned that he had not been able to change cinnabar
into gold. He therefore honoured LuanDa with the title of General of the Five
Profits. After a few months, Luan Da was able to wear four seals at his
girdle, those of General of the Heavenly Man, General of the Earthly Man, and
General of the Great Way having been granted to him in addition to the previous
The emperor issued an edict to the imperial secretary which read: "In
ancient times Emperor Yu opened up the nine rivers and fixed the courses of
the four waterways. In recent years, however, the Yellow River has flowed out
over the land and the labourers working on its dikes have been able to find no
rest. For twenty-eight years I have watched over the empire, and now it is as
though Heaven has sent me this man to open up the great way for me. In the
Book of Changes we read of 'the flying dragon' and 'the wild swan advancing
to the great rock'.
Do these oracles not apply to this great man whom Heaven
has sent to me? Therefore let a fief of 2,000 households be granted to General
Horse liver was believed to be poison.
sy seeking to become a member of the imperial family, presumably through a marriage
alliance, LuanDa hoped to preclude the possibility of meeting the same fate as Shaoweng.
From the Book of Changes, the oracles of the hexagrams qian and jian. Both refer to
the finding of a worthy minister by the ruler.
F eng and Shan Sacrifices 33
Luan Da and let him be given the title of marquis of Letong."
In addition the emperor presented Luan Da with one of the finest mansions
of the marquises, 1 ,000 servants, carriages for use on ordinary and special
occasions, and hangings, draperies, and vessels of every .kind to adorn his
house. He also bestowed his daughter Princess Wei, the eldest daughter of
Empress Wei, upon Luan Da to be his wife, along with 10,000 catties of
gold, and changed the name of the princess' s fief to "Princess Dangli". The
emperor in person went to visit the home of Luan Da and in addition sent a
constant stream of envoys to inquire how he was and supply him with anything
he needed. From the emperor's aunt and the highest officials of the government
on down, people invited him to their homes to dine and showered him with
The emperor then had another jade seal carved with the title "General of
the Heavenly Way" and sent his envoy to present it to LuanDa. The presentation
ceremony was performed at night, the envoy being dressed in a feather cloak
and standing on a spread of white rushes, while Luan Da, similarly dressed and
standing on the rushes, received the seal. This was done to indicate that Luan
Da was not being treated as a subject of the emperor. The words "Heavenly
Way" on the seal meant that LuanDa should open up a way to the heavenly
spirits for the emperor.
After this Luan Da spent every evening offering sacrifices at his home,
hoping that he would be able to call down the spirits. No spirits appeared,
however, but only a multitude of ghosts who gathered around. These he was
able to command. Sometime later he began to make preparations for a journey,
announcing that he would travel east and set out upon the sea to search for his
In no more than a few months from the time he was granted an audience
with the emperor, Luan Da bore at his girdle six seals, those of his five
generalships and his marquisate, and his honour awed the empire. After this
there was hardly a soul living on the seacoast of Y an and Qi who did not begin
waving his arms about excitedly and proclaiming that he possessed secret arts
and could command the spirits and immortals.
In the summer, during the sixth month of this year (113 BC), the shaman
Jin of Fen yin was performing a sacrifice for the sake of the common people to
the Earth Lord at the Rump Hill altar in the region of Wei, when he noticed an
object shaped a hook sticking up out of the ground at the side of the altar.
Digging up the soil around it, he unearthed a cauldron. It was much larger than
34 Han Dynasty II
any ordinary cauldron and had a pattern incised on it, but no inscription.
struck by his find, he reported it to the officials, who in turn informed Sheng,
the governor of Hedong Province. The governor having relayed intelligence of
the affair to the throne, the emperor dispatched an envoy to question the shaman
on how he had come into possession of the cauldron. The envoy, finding no
evidence of fraud or deceit, sacrificed with full ceremony at the altar and bore
the cauldron back with him to the Palace of Sweet Springs, where the emperor
detennined to take it along with him on one of this journeys and offer it to the
spirits of Heaven. For this purpose he made a trip to the mountains, whereupon
the sun shone forth with a bright, wann glow and a yellow cloud came and stood
over the place where the cauldron was. Just then a large deer passed by the
imperial party, which the emperor shot down in person and used as a sacrifice.
When the emperor and his party returned to Chang'an, the ministers
and high officials all gathered in conference and requested that due honour be
shown to the precious cauldron. The emperor announced, "Recently the
Yell ow River overflowed its banks and for several years the harvests were
poor. Therefore 1 journeyed about the empire and perfonned sacrifices to the
Earth Lord, praying for the sake of the common people that the grain might
grow well. This year, though the harvest has been rich and plentiful, I have not
yet returned thanks for this blessing. Why then should this cauldron appear?"
To this the officials all replied, "We have heard that in ancient times the
Great Emperor Fu Xi made a single sacred cauldron. The number one symbol-
izes the unification of heaven and earth, showing that all things of creation were
brought together. The Yellow Emperor made three precious cauldrons, symbol-
izing heaven, earth, and man, while Emperor Yu collected metal from the nine
ancient provinces and cast nine cauldrons. All of them used the cauldrons to
boil offerings and present them to the Lord on High and the other spirits. Only
when a sage ruler appeared on the throne were these cauldrons made. The
cauldrons were handed down during the successive dynasties of the Xia and
Shang, but later, when the virtue of the Zhou rulers declined and the altars of
the soil of the state of Song, ruled by the descendants of the Shang kings, were
rt will be recalled that in the reign of Emperor Wen the charlatan X in yuan Ping had
predicted that the lost cauldrons of Zhou would come to light at Fenyin. As commentators
have suggested, Xinyuan Ping had probably had this cauldron buried at Fen yin so that it could
be "discovered" to fulfil his prediction. but death cut short his career before the plan could be
carried to completion.
Feng and Shan Sacrifices 35
destroyed, the cauldrons sank into the waters and disappeared from sight. The
temple hymn in the Book of Odes reads:
From hall to gatehouse,
From ram to bull he moves,
With great cauldron and small; ...
Neither contentious nor proud,
Beautiful shall be the blessing of long life for him!
"Now this cauldron was brought to the Palace of Sweet Springs and a
radiance burst forth, shimmering like a dragon. Boundless beauty was received
from on high when it was carried among the mountains. A cloud of yellow and
white descended to cover it and an omen in the form of a beast appeared. With
the great bow and a set of four arrows, the beast was captured and placed at the
foot of the altar, a sacrifice of thanksgiving accepted with great favour on high.
Only an emperor who has received the mandate of Heaven can understand the
meaning of these signs, and he alone possesses the virtue needed to answer them.
The cauldron should therefore be presented in the temple of the ancestors and
stored away in the imperial court in accordance with these bright omens!"
The emperor gave his consent to this.
The men who had been sent to sea in search of the island ofPenglai reported
that it was not far away, but that they had as yet been unable to reach it because
they could barely make out the emanations which indicated its location. The
emperor therefore dispatched more men whose duty, it was said, was to watch
the sky from afar and aid the magicians in locating the emanations.
In the autumn the emperor journeyed to Y ong and was preparing to perfonn
the suburban sacrifice when someone advised him, saying "The Five Emperors
are no more than the helpers of the Great Unity. It would be well ifYourMajesty
were to set up an altar to the Great Unity and perform the suburban sacrifice in
person to this spirit." The emperor, however, was in doubt about what to do and
carne to no decision.
At this point a man of Qi named Gongsun Qing appeared with a letter which
he wished to present to the throne, reading as follows:
This year the precious cauldron was found, and this winter the first
day of the month, xinsi, corresponds with the winter solstice. This is
From the Book of Odes, "Temple Hymns of the Zhou", "Siyi".
the same conjunction of circumstances that occurred in the time of the
Yellow Emperor.l have in my possession a document on wood which
states: "When the Yellow Emperor obtained the precious cauldron at
Wangou he questioned Guiyu Qu, who replied, 'The Yellow Emperor
has obtained the precious cauldron and the sacred calculations. This
year the first day of the month,jiyou, corresponds to the winter solstice,
which indicates that the heavenly reckonings are in order. When the
cycles of heaven have come to an end, they shall begin again.' The
Yellow Emperor then proceeded to reckon ahead and found that after
approximately twenty years the first day of the month would once more
fall on the winter solstice. Mter about twenty such cycles had passed,
or 380 years, the Yellow Emperor became an immortal and ascended
to heaven."
Gongsun Qing asked one of the officials named Suo Zhong to present this
letter to the throne. But when Suo Zhong read over the letter, he saw that it made
no sense and, suspecting that Gongsun Qing had concocted the whole thing out
of his own head, he declined, saying, "The matter of the precious cauldron has
already been disposed of. Nothing further can be done about it at this time."
Gongsun Qing then got one of the emperor's favourites to present his letter
and the emperor was exceedingly pleased. He immediately summoned Gongsun
Qing and questioned him, whereupon the latter replied, "I was given this letter
by Master Shen, but he is dead."
"And who was Master Shen?" asked the emperor.
"Master Shen was a man of Qi who was friendly with the immortal, Master
Anqi, and from him received the words of the Yellow Emperor. He possessed
no writings, but only a cauldron inscription which said: ' When the Han dynasty
comes to power, the months and days shall fall the same as they did at the time
of the Yellow Emperor.' It further said: 'The sage of the Han shall be the
grandson or great-grandson of Gaozu. A precious cauldron shall appear and he
shall commune with the spirits at the Feng and Shan sacrifices. Of all the
seventy-two rulers who attempted the Feng and Shan, only the Y el1ow Emperor
was able to ascend Mt. Tai and perform the Feng!' Master Shen told me, 'The
ruler of the Han shall also ascend the mountain and perform the Feng. and when
he has done this, then he will become an immortal and will climb up to heaven!'
"In the time of the Yellow Emperor there were 10,000 feudal lords, and
among these 7,000 Jived in fiefs containing the places of worship of the gods.
In the world there are eight famous mountains, three of them in the lands of the
F eng and Shan Sacrifices 37
barbarians and five of them within China. The five in China are Mt. Hua, Mt.
Shou, The Great Room, Mt. Tai, and Mt. Donglai. The Yellow Emperor often
visited these five mountains and met there with the spirits. At times the Yellow
Emperor made war, and at times he studied the arts of becoming an immortal,
but he was distressed that the common people criticized his ways and so he
beheaded anyone who spoke ill of the spirits. After I 00 years or so he was able
to commune with the spirits.
"The Yellow Emperor performed the suburban sacrifice to the Lord on High
at Yong, camping there for three months. Guiyu Qu's other name was Great
Crane, and when he died he was buried in Yon g. Therefore the mountain ~ now
called Crane Mound. Later the Yell ow Emperor communed with the myriad
spiritual beings in the Bright Court. The Bright Court was located at Sweet
Springs, and Cold Gate was the name for the mouth of the valley.
"The Yellow Emperor collected copper from Mt. Shou and had it melted
and cast into a cauldron at the foot of Mt. Jing. When the cauldron was
completed, a dragon with whiskers hanging from its chin came down from the
sky to fetch him. The Yellow Emperor mounted on the dragon' s back, followed
by his ministers and palace ladies, making a company of over seventy persons.
When they had all mounted, the dragon rose from the ground and departed. The
lesser ministers, unable to mount the dragon, clung to its whiskers until the
whiskers came out and fell to the ground, along with the bow of the Yell ow
Emperor. The common people gazed up into the sky till the Yellow Emperor
had reached heaven and then they clasped the whiskers and the bow and began
to wail. Therefore in later ages the spot where all of this took place was named
Cauldron Lake and the bow was called The Cry of Sorrow."
When the emperor heard this, he gave a great sigh and said, "Ah! HI could
only become like the Yellow Emperor, I would think no more of my wife and
children than of a castoff slipper!" He then honoured Gongsun Qing with the
position of palace attendant and sent him east to wait upon the spirits at the Great
Room, Mt. Song.
The emperor proceeded to carry out the suburban sacrifice at Yong, after
which he travelled west as far as Longxi, climbed Mt. Kongtong in the west,
and then returned to the Palace of Sweet Springs. There he gave orders to Kuan
Shu and the other officials in charge of sacrifices to fit out an altar to the Great
Unity. It was modelled after Miu Ji' s altar to the Great Unity and had three
levels. Surrounding the base of it were the altars of the Five Emperors, each
disposed in the direction appropriate to the particular deity, except that the altar
38 Han Dynasty II
to the Yellow Emperor, the deity of the centre, was placed on the southwest
side. Thus the eight roads by which demons approach were blocked. For the
worship of the Great Unity the same offerings were used as at the altars of Y ong,
with the addition of such things as thick wine, jujubes, and dried meat. A yak
was also slaughtered and offered with the appropriate dishes and other sacrificial
implements. The Five Emperors were given only offerings of rich wine in the
appropriate sacrificial vessels. Wine was poured on the ground at the four
comers of the altar for the purpose, it was said, of giving sustenance to the lesser
spirits and attendants and to the Big Dipper. When the offerings were completed,
the beasts that had been sacrificed were all burned. The ox was white, and inside
it was placed a deer, and inside the deer a pig; water was then sprinkled over
them while they burned. An ox was offered to the sun and a ram or a pig to the
moon. The priest who presented the offerings to the Great Unity wore robes of
purple with brocade; those for the Five Emperors wore the colour appropriate
to the particular deity. The robes of those who performed the sacrifice to the sun
were red, and those for the moon white.
On the first day of the eleventh month, the day xinsi (24 Dec. 113 BC),
which corresponded to the winter solstice, just before daylight, the emperor for
the first time performed the suburban sacrifice in honour of the Great Unity. In
the morning he made the morning bows to the sun, and in the evening the
evening bows to the moon. The ritual used for the Great Unity was the same as
that for the suburban sacrifice at Y ong. The words of praise employed in the
sacrifice read: "Heaven has for the first time granted to the Supreme Emperor
the precious cauldron and the sacred calculations. The first day of the month
corresponds to the winter solstice: when the cycles have come to an end, they
shall begin again. The Supreme Emperor, reverently bowing, appears here."
The vestments used in the ceremony honoured the colour yellow. At the
time of the sacrifice, the altar was covered with rows of torches, and at the side
of the altar were set the vessels for boiling and roasting the sacrifices. "During
the sacrifices," the officials concerned with the ceremony reported, "a light
appeared in the sky over the offerings." The high ministers of the court
announced, "The Supreme Emperor has for the first time performed the subur-
ban sacrifice to the Great Unity at Yunyang. The officials presented large
circlets of jade and offerings of the finest sacrificial animals. On the night of the
sacrifice a beautiful light appeared, and the following day yellow exhalations
rose from the altar and reached to heaven."
The grand historian and Kuan Shu and the other officials in charge of
F eng and Shan Sacrifices
sacrifices advised the emperor, saying, "The spiritual beings in their beauty have
come to aid Your Majesty with blessings and show forth auspicious omens. It
is right that an Altar of the Great Unity should be permanently established in
this region where the light shone, in clear answer to these portents." The emperor
ordered the Altar to be placed under the jurisdiction of the master of invocations.
The emperor performed the suburban sacrifice here in person once every three
years, and during these intervals sacrifices were performed by the officials in
the autumn and the last month of the year.
In the autumn, in preparation for the attack on the state of Southern Yue,
an announcement was made to the Great Unity, along with prayers for success.
A banner was made, fixed to a handle of thorn wood, and painted with
representations of the sun, the moon, the Big Dipper, and an ascending dragon.
These represented the Spear of the Great Unity (that is, the three stars in the
mouth of the Big Dipper). It was called the "spirit banner" and when the
announcement and prayers for the soldiers were offered, the grand historian took
it in his hand and pointed it at the country that was about to be attacked.
Meanwhile the magician Luan Da, who had supposedly set off as the
emperor's envoy to search for his teacher, had not ventured to set out to sea but
had instead gone to Mt. Tai, where he was performing sacrifices. The emperor
dispatched men to trail Luan Da and see whether there were any evidences of
his magical powers. They reported that LuanDa had in fact met with no spiritual
beings at all, and that the story of his going to visit his teacher was all nonsense.
Since it seemed that LuanDa' s magical powers were exhausted, and since his
claims in most cases were not borne out by the facts, the emperor had him
In the winter Gongsun Qing went to observe the spirits in the region of
Henan and reported that he had seen the footprints of an immortal being on top
of the city wall of Goushi, where a creature like a pheasant had flown back and
forth over the wall. The emperor went in person to Goushi to ex.amine the
footprints. "Are you sure you are not trying the same sort of trick as Shaoweng
and LuanDa?" the emperor asked.
"The immortals do not seek for the ruler of men," replied Gongsun Qing.
"It is the ruler who must seek for them! Unless one sets about the task with a
liberal and open-minded attitude, I am afraid that the spirits will never appear.
When men discuss spiritual matters, their words are apt to sound wild and
irrational , but if these matters are pursued for a sufficient number of years, the
spirits can eventually be persuaded to come forth!"
40 Han Dynasty II
After this all the provinces and feudal kingdoms set about busily cleaning
their roads, and repairing their palaces and towers and the places of worship of
the spirits and the famous mountains, anticipating a visit from the emperor.
In the spring, after the kingdom of southern Yue had been wiped out, Li
Yannian, who became one of the emperor's favourite ministers, attracted the
ruler's attention because of his knowledge of music. The emperor was much
impressed with his views and ordered the high ministers to open discussions on
the following question: "At the places of worship among the common people,
musical instruments and dances are still in use, yet at present no such music is
employed at the suburban sacrifice. How can this be right?"
"In ancient times," replied the ministers, "music was used at all the
sacrifices to Heaven and Earth, and thus the deities of those two realms were
treated with the highest degree of propriety." Others said, "The Great Emperor
Fu Xi ordered the White Maiden to play upon a fifty-stringed zither. The music
was exceedingly sad and the Great Emperor tried to stop her from playing, but
she would not cease. Therefore he broke the zither in two, making an instrument
of only twenty-five strings."
As a result of their deliberations, sacrifices and prayers of thanksgiving for
the success of the expedition to Southern Yue were offered to the Great Unity
and the Earth Lord, and at these music and dances were used for the first time.
A number of boys were summoned to sing at the services and twenty-five
stringed zithers and harps of the kind called konghou were made. It was at this
time that zithers and harps first came into use for religious ceremonies.
In the winter of the following year ( 110 BC) the emperor held discussions
with his ministers and announced, "In ancient times the troops were brought
back from their posts and temporarily disbanded before the Feng and Shan
sacrifices were performed." He proceeded to make a tour of the northern border,
calling up a force of over a 100,000 troops to accompany him. He returned and
sacrificed at the grave of the Yellow Emperor at Bridge Mountain and then
disbanded the troops at Xuru. "I have been told that the Yellow Emperor did
not die," said the emperor. "Why is it that we now find his grave here?" To this
question someone replied, "After the Yellow Emperor had been transformed
into an immortal and had ascended to Heaven, his ministers made a grave here
for his robes and hat!
After the emperor had returned to the Palace of Sweet Springs he began
making preparations to perform the sacrifices at Mt. Tai, first offering a special
sacrifice to the Great Unity. From the time the precious cauldron was discov-
F eng .and Shan Sacrifices 41
ered, the emperor had ordered his high ministers and court scholars to discuss
the question of the Feng and Shan, but since these sacrifices were so seldom
performed and since the last performance had been so long ago, no one knew
the proper ceremony to be followed. The Confucian scholars selected material
from the Book of Documents, the Offices of Zhou, and the Institutes of a King
to show that it was a mountain sacrifice in which the ruler in person shot the
sacrificial bull with an arrow. However, a certain Master Ding of Qi, who was
over ninety years old, stated, "The wordfeng indicates the concept of immor-
tality. The First Emperor of the Qin did n ~ ~ c c e e d in ascending the mountain
and performing the Feng sacrifice. If Your Majesty wishes to make the ascent,
you should do so in gradual stages, and when it is apparent that there is no wind
or rain, you may proceed to the top and carry out the sacrifice."
The emperor therefore ordered the Confucian scholars to practise shooting
bulls and to draw up rough plans for the performance of the Feng and Shan.
Several years had passed since that time, and the emperor felt that the moment
had come to perform the sacrifices. He had been told by Gongsun Qing and the
other magicians, however, that when the Yellow Emperor and the rulers before
him had performed the Feng and Shan, they had all succeeded in summoning
forth supernatural beings and communing with the spirits. He therefore wished
to imitate the example of these rulers by getting into touch with the spirits and
the immortals of Penglai and achieving fame in the world so that his virtue might
be compared to that of the Nine Bright Ones of antiquity. At the same time he
wished to follow as much as possible the doctrines of the Confucians in order
to lend elegance to the proceedings. The Confucian scholars for their part had
been unable to produce any detailed information on the Feng and Shan ceremo-
nies. Furthermore, they insisted upon confining themselves to what was written
in the Odes and Documents and other old works and seemed incapable of coming
forward with any worthwhile suggestions. When the emperor had sacrificial
vessels made for use in the Feng and Shan and showed them to the Confucian
scholars, some of them objected, saying, "These are not the same as the ones
used in ancient times!" In addition an erudite named Xu Yan informed the
emperor, "The scholars who are charged with the conducting of ceremonies
under the master of ritual are not as skilful as those of Lu!" Another named Zhou
Ba called all the scholars together and began making his own plans for the
ceremony. With this the emperor demoted Xu Yan and Zhou Ba and called a
halt to the discussions of the Confucian scholars, making no further use of their
Han Dynasty ll
In the first month
the emperor journeyed east and visited Goushi. He
stopped at Mt. Song, the Central Peak, and ascended the crest called The Great
Room to pay his respects. The attendants who were waiting for him at the foot
of the mountain reported that they had heard a voice that seemed to say "Long
Life!" The emperor questioned the men who had ascended the mountain with
him, but they replied that they had not spoken any such words, and the men at
the foot of the mountain gave the same answer. The emperor then set aside a
fief of 300 households to support the sacrifices to The Great Room, calling it
The City Which Honours Mt. Song.
He then proceeded east and ascended Mt. Tai. At this time the grass and
leaves of the trees had not yet come out and so, without fear of injuring them,
he was able to order his men to drag a stone up the mountain and erect it on the
summit of Mt. Tai.
From there the emperor journeyed along the seacoast, paying his respects
and sacrificing to the Eight Spirits on the way. The men of Qi who came to the
emperor with tales of supernatural beings and magical powers numbered in the
tens of thousands, but none of them were able to offer any proofs. The emperor
then dispatched a number of boats, ordering several thousand of the men who
had brought him tales of the mountain of the gods in the middle of the sea to set
out in search of the spiritual beings of Penglai.
Gongsun Qing in the meantime had been proceeding in advance of the
emperor, bearing the seals of an imperial envoy and looking for signs of the
spirits at the various famous mountains. When he reached Mt. Donglai, he
reported that he had encountered a giant man at night who measured several
zhang in height.
When he approached to speak to the being, it disappeared, but
its footprints were still visible, he said, being very large and like those of an
animal. One of the emperor's ministers also reported that he had seen an old
man leading a dog. The man had said, "I am looking for the Great Lord!" and
had then abruptly disappeared. The emperor had in the meantime gone to see
the large footprints reported by Gongsun Qing, but was not yet persuaded that
they were genuine. When his ministers told him about the old man with the dog,
however, he became firmly convinced that it had actually been an immortal
being. He therefore lingered for a while on the seacoast, providing his magicians
with post carriages so that they could get about quickly and sending out several
Following the reading in Han shu 6.
A zhang was equal to about 7'7". One zhang is made up of ten chi.
Feng and Shan Sacrifices 43
thousand men to search in secret for immortal beings.
In the fourth month the emperor started back west, arriving at Fenggao. He
had thought over the various recommendations which the Confucian scholars
and the magicians had made concerning the Feng and Shan sacrifices, but he
was troubled by the fact that each said something different and that many of
their recommendations were absurd or almost impossible to put into practice.
When he reached Liangfu, he sacrificed to the Lord of the Land. On the day
yimao ( 17 May II 0 BC) he ordered the Confucians who attended him to don
leather caps and wide sashes and to carry out the shooting of the ox, performing
the ceremony used at the suburban sacrifices to the Great Unity. The Jeng or
altar mound was one zhang and two chi in breadth and nine chi high. Buried
beneath it was a jade tablet inscribed with a message, but the contents were kept
secret. After this ceremony was completed, the emperor alone, accompanied by
only one attendant, the carriage server Zihou,
ascended Mt. Tai and again
performed the Feng sacrifice. This latter ceremony was carried out entirely in
secret. The following day the emperor descended the mountain by the northern
On the day bingchen (18 May) the emperor performed the Shan sacrifice
at Mt. Suran in the northeast foothills of Mt. Tai, following the ceremony used
for the sacrifices to the Earth Lord. At all of these ceremonies the emperor made
his obeisance and presented himself in person, wearing garments honouring the
colour yellow, and music was employed throughout. A type of rush having three
ridges on one stalk, which grows between the Yangtze and Huai rivers, was used
to make the sacred mats for the offerings, and earth of five colours was heaped
on top of the sacrificial mound. In addition to the offerings all sorts of strange
beasts, flying creatures, white pheasants, and other animals brought from distant
regions were set free so that the ritual would be complete. Rhinoceroses,
elephants, and such creatures, however, were not set free, but were brought to
Mt. Tai and then taken away again. While the Feng and Shan were being
performed, something like a light appeared in the sky at night, and during the
day white clouds rose from the mounds.
Returning from the Shan sacrifice, the emperor took his seat in the Bright
Hall, where at! his ministers in tum offered him their congratulations. The
emperor issued an edict to the imperial secretary which read:
Huo Shan. the son of the famous general Huo Qubing.
44 Han Dynasty 1/
I, in my humble and insignificant person, have been accorded the
position of highest honour; constantly I tremble with fear that I shall
not be worthy of it, for my virtue is poor and slight and I have no
understanding of rites and music. When I performed the sacrifice to
the Great Unity, something which looked like a beam oflight was seen
faintly from afar. I was filled with awe at this strange occurrence and
would have proceeded no further, but I did not dare to halt. Thus I
ascended Mt. Tai to perform the Feng sacrifice, journeyed to Liangfu,
and later performed the Shan sacrifice at Mt. Suran, thus renewing
myself. In recognition ofthis new beginning which I and my ministers
have made, I grant to every hundred households of the common people
one ox and ten piculs of wine, and in addition, to all those over eighty
and to orphans and widows, two bolts of silk cloth. Bo, Fenggao, Yiqiu,
and Licheng shall be exempted from corvee labour and need pay no
taxes this year. In addition, let a general amnesty be granted to the
empire of the same kind as that ordered in the year yimao ( 120 BC).
None of the places which I have passed through in my visit shall be
required to send labour forces, and no criminal charges dating from
more than two years in the past shall be tried.
He also issued an edict saying,
In ancient times the Son of Heaven journeyed about on an inspec-
tion tour once every five years, and at that time he performed sacrifices
to Mt. Tai. The feudal lords who came to pay court to him constructed
their lodgings there. Let an order therefore be given to the feudal lords
to build their own lodges at the foot of Mt. Tai.
The emperor had succeeded in performing the Feng and Shan and had not
been troubled by wind or rain, and the magicians now came forward one after
the other to assure him that the time had surely come when he would make
contact with the spirits of Penglai. The emperor was overjoyed and, convinced
that his meeting with the gods was near, he returned east once more to the
seacoast, gazing from afar in hopes of sighting the island of Penglai. Instead,
however, his carriage server Zihou, who had accompanied him to the top of Mt.
Tai, was stricken with a violent sickness and died the same day. The emperor
departed and, following the coast, journeyed north as far as Jieshi. From there
he travelled through Liaoxi, passed along the northern border to Jiuyuan, and
in the fifth month returned to the Palace of Sweet Springs.
F eng and Shan Sacrifices
The officials suggested that the era when the precious cauldron was found
should be called yuanding or "Cauldron Period", and that the present year should
be designated as the first year of a new era, to be called yuanfeng, the "Feng
In the autumn a comet appeared in the constellation of the Eastern Well and
some ten or twelve days later it appeared in the constellation of the Three Tai.
Wang Shuo, a man versed in the observation of the skies, reported that he had
seen the star
swell forth until it was as large as a melon, and after a while
disappear again. The officials all assured the emperor, "Since Your Majesty has
instituted the Feng and Shan sacrifices for the house of Han, Heaven has sent
forth in response this star of virtue!" In the winter of the following year the
emperor performed the suburban sacrifice to the Five Emperors at Y ong and on
his return he worshipped and sacrificed to the Great Unity. The following words
of praise were used in the ceremony: "The star of virtue, large and brilliant, has
shown us this auspicious omen. The Star of Long Life shines forth as before;
deep and glowing is its great light.
The starry signs have appeared for all to
see. The Supreme Emperor bows in reverence before the offerings of the master
of invocation."
In the spring of this year Gongsun Qing reported that he had met a spiritual
being at Mt. Donglai who seemed to be saying that he wished to see the Son of
Heaven. The emperor therefore paid a visit to Goushi, where he honoured
Gongsun Qing with the rank of palace counsellor, and then proceeded to
Donglai. He lodged there for several days but did not succeed in meeting the
spirit, though he did see what were said to be the footprints of a giant man. He
once more dispatched a group of several thousand magicians to search for the
spirits and gather the herbs of immortality.
This year there was a drought, and since the emperor had had no official
business which could be used as an excuse for a trip to the east, he took this
opportunity to journey to the altar of the Ten Thousand Mile Sands and offer
prayers for rain. On his way back he sacrificed at Mt. Tai and then returned to
Huzi, where he inspected the work which was being done to close the break in
the dikes of the Yellow River there. He remained for two days and then, casting
offerings into the Yellow River as a sacrifice, departed. He left orders for two
Following the reading in Shi ji 12.
The "star of virtue" is the comet; the Star of Long Life is Canopus, (Alpha Argus),
whose shining was said to portend peace and order.
Han Dynasty II
of his ministers to bring a force of soldiers and complete the closing of the
breach, leading the waters off in two channels so that the river might be restored
to the course it had followed in the time of Emperor Yu.
By this time the emperor had completed the conquest of the two barbarian
kingdoms of Yue. A man of Yue named Yong Zhi informed the emperor that
the spirits of the dead were highly honoured among the people ofYue and that
at their sacrifices these spirits invariably appeared, often giving proofs of their
power. In former times, he said, the king of Eastern Ou had honoured the spirits
and had consequently lived to the age of 160, but later generations had grown
careless and indifferent and therefore the power of Yue had declined. The
emperor then ordered the shamans of Yue to set up a place for Yue sacrifices in
the capital. It had a terrace but no altar. Here sacrifices were also offered to the
spirits of Heaven, the Lord on High, and the various spirits of the dead, and a
type of divination using chicken bones was employed which the emperor put
great faith in. Thus the Yue sacrifices and chicken divination began from this
Gongsun Qing advised the emperor, saying, " It is quite possible to meet
with the immortals. It is only that Your Majesty always rushes off in great haste
to see them and therefore never succeeds. Now if you would only build
some turrets like those on the city wall of Goushi and set out dried meat and
jujubes, I believe the spirits could be induced to come, for they like to live in
Therefore the emperor gave orders for the construction of the Flying Eaves
and Cassia Towers in Chang'an and the Increased Life and Long Life Towers
at the Palace of Sweet Springs. He presented Gongsun Qing with the seals of
an imperial envoy and ordered him to set out the necessary offerings and watch
for the arrival of the spirits. He also built the Terrace that Reaches to Heaven
and had the sacrificial utensils laid out at the foot, hoping to induce the spirits
and immortals to visit it. In addition he constructed a Front Hall at the Palace
of Sweet Springs and for the first time enlarged the various rooms of the
In the summer the fungus of immortality sprang up in one of the rooms of
the palace, and when the Terrace that Reaches to Heaven, which the emperor
had built in honour of the closing of the breach in the dikes of the Yellow River,
was completed, something that looked like a light in the sky was said to have
appeared. The emperor therefore issued an edict saying, "In a room of the Palace
of Sweet Springs the fungus of immortality, with its nine stalks, has sprung up.
Feng and Shan Sacrifices
A general amnesty shall be granted to the empire and no more construction
labour shall be required."
The following year ( 108 BC) the army attacked Korea. In the summer there
was a drought. Gongsun Qing informed the emperor, "In the time of the Yellow
Emperor, whenever the Feng sacrifice was performed, Heaven sent a drought
for three years in order to dry out the earth of the feng or altar mound." The
emperor then issued an edict saying, "Heaven has sent this drought for the
purpose of drying out the earth ofthefeng. Let all the empire be ordered to pay
honour and sacrifice to the Sacred Star."
The following year the emperor performed the suburban sacrifice at Yong.
He opened up a road through Huizhong and, passing through the region, reached
Mingze in the spring, from whence he returned to the capital by way of Xi he.
In the winter of the following year (106 BC) the emperor visited Nan
Province, travelling to Jiangling and the east, where he ascended and paid his
respects to the Mountain of the Heavenly Pillar in Qian, which he designated
the Southern Peak. He embarked on the Yangtze and travelled from Xunyang
to Congyang, passing through Lake Pengli and paying his respects to the famous
mountains and rivers along the way. From there he proceeded north to Langya,
following the seacoast, and in the fourth month reached Fenggao, where he
renewed the Feng sacrifice.
When the emperor first performed the Feng sacrifice at Mt. Tai a spot. was
pointed out to him at the northeast foot of the mountain which was said to be
the site of the Bright Hall in ancient times. The place was steep and narrow,
however, and the emperor wished to build his own Bright Hall in the vicinity
of Fenggao, but he did not know what sort of plan to follow for the building.
Then a man of Jinan named Gongyu Dai presented to the emperor a plan of the
Bright Hall used in the time of the Yellow Emperor. According to this design,
there was a hall in the centre, wall-less on all four sides and roofed with
rushes. Streams flowed beside the fence which surrounded the building, and a
two-storey walk, topped by towers, led into it from the southwest. The Son of
Heaven entered by the walk, which was called Kunlun, and performed sacrifices
here to the Lord on High. The emperor accordingly gave orders for a Bright Hall
to be constructed beside the Wen River at Fenggao following the plan submitted
by Gongyu Dai.
In the fifth year of yuanfeng (I 06 BC) when the emperor renewed the Feng
sacrifice, he sacrificed to the Great Unity and the Five Emperors at the Bright
Hall, placing them in the highest seats and placing the seat of Emperor Gaozu
Han Dynasty II
facing them. In the lower room he sacrificed to the Earth Lord. Twenty sets of
animals were used for these sacrifices. The emperor entered from the Kunlun
Walk and for the first time paid his respects at the Bright Hall, following the
ceremony used at the suburban sacrifice. When the ceremony was completed
the sacrifices were burned outside the hall.
The emperor then once more ascended Mt. Tai and performed a secret
sacrifice at the summit, while at the foot of the mountain the officials performed
sacrifices to the Five Emperors, each place of sacrifice being situated in the
appropriate direction, except that that for the Yellow Emperor, the ruler of the
centre, was combined with that for the Red Emperor of the south. When torches
were lit on top of the mountain the officials at the foot all lit their torches in
Two years later those who were in charge of reforming the calendar
announced that it would be appropriate to carry out their changes on the day
jiazi of the eleventh month (25 Dec. l 05 BC), on which the first day of the month
would correspond with the winter solstice. The emperor therefore went in person
to Mt. Tai and on that day sacrificed in the Bright Hall to the Lord on High, but
he did not renew the Feng and Shan. The words of praise used in the ceremony
were as follows: "Heaven has once more granted to the Supreme Emperor the
sacred calculations of the Great Beginning. When the cycles of the heavens have
been completed, they shall in this way begin again. The Supreme Emperor
respectfully bows to the Great Unity."
The emperor then proceeded east to the sea, where he examined those
who had gone to sea and the magicians he had dispatched to seek for the gods.
but none of them were able to report any success. He sent a large party of
them out again, however, still hoping to accomplish some meeting with the
In the eleventh month, the day yiyou (15 Jan. 104 BC), a fire broke out at
the Terrace of Cypress Beams.
On the first day of the twelfth month, the day jiawu (24 Jan.), the emperor
in person performed the Shan sacrifice at Mt. Gaoli and offered sacrifices to the
Earth Lord. He then went on to the Gulf of Bohai, where he performed sacrifices
from afar to the island of Penglai and such places, hoping always to reach their
wonderful halls.
The emperor then returned to the capital area and, because the Terrace of
Cypress Beams had been destroyed by fire, held his court at the Palace of Sweet
Springs and received the yearly accounts from the provinces and kingdoms
F eng and Slum Sacrifices 49
there. Gongsun Qing informed him. "The Yellow Emperor constructed the Blue
Spirit Terrace, but twelve days later it burned down. He then built the Bright
Court, which was located at the site of the present Palace of Sweet Springs."
Many of the other magicians likewise assured the emperor that there had been
rulers in ancient times who had had their capital at Sweet Springs. The emperor
therefore decided that in the future he would also hold court with the feudal
lords at Sweet Springs, where mansions would be built to house the lords during
their visits.
Yong Zhi ofYue informed the emperor, "According to the custom ofYue,
when there has been a fire and the buildings are rebuilt, they must always be
larger than before in order to overcome the evil influences." The emperor then
constructed the Jianzhang Palace or Palace for Establishing the Statutes. It had
a countless number of gates and doors, and the front hall was larger than that of
the Eternal Palace. On the east side was the Phoenix Tower, measuring over
twenty zhang in height. On the west were the walks, with a garden measuring
twenty or thirty fi in which tigers were kept. North of the palace was built a large
lake called the Great Fluid, with the Terrace of the Lapping Water rising over
twenty zhang from it. In the middle of the lake were Penglai, Fangzhang,
Yingzhou, and Huliang, islands built to represent the spirit isles of the sea or
such things as turtles and fish. On the south were the Jewelled Hall, the Jade
Gate, the Great Bird, and similar constructions, as we11 as the Terrace of the
Spirits and the Railing Tower, measuring fifty zhang, all connected by walks
for the imperial palanquin.
In the summer the calendar of the Han dynasty was changed so that the
official year began with the first month. Yellow, the colour of earth, was chosen
as the colour of the dynasty, and the titles of the officials were recarved on seals
so that they all consisted of five characters, five being the number appropriate
to the element earth. This year was designated as the first year of the era taichu
or "Great Beginning".
This year the armies marched west to attack Ferghana. Swarms of
locusts appeared. Ding Furen, Yu Chu of Luoyang, and others used their
magical arts and sacrifices to put a curse upon the leaders of the Xiongnu and
The following year the officials informed the emperor that there were no
proper vessels for use in boiling the sacrificial animals at the Five Altars of
Yon g. and for this reason the fragrance of the offerings was not being properly
presented. The emperor therefore ordered the sacrificial officials to present
Han Dynasty II
vessels to the altars for use in the calf offerings. The colour of the sacrificial
animals was to be that appropriate to whichever of the Five Emperors was being
sacrificed to. He ordered, however, that wooden models of horses be substituted
for the former offerings of colts.
Real colts were to be used only when the
emperor in person performed the suburban sacrifice. Likewise all of the sacri-
fices to famous mountains and rivers which had previously used colts were to
substitute wooden horses except when the emperor visited the region to perform
the sacrifice himself. In all other respects the ceremonies were to be carried out
in the same way as before.
The following year (I 02 BC) the emperor journeyed east to the sea to
examine the men who had been sent to search for the immortals, but none of
them had any success to report. The magicians then informed him that in the
time of the Yellow Emperorthere had been five city walls and twelve towers at
Zhiqi from which the spirits were observed, which were called "Prolonged
Life". The emperor gave permission for the construction of similar walls and
towers according to the directions of the magicians, to be called "Bright Life".
The emperor sacrificed there in person to the Lord on High.
Gongyu Dai advised the emperor, saying, "When the Yellow Emperor was
alive, although he performed the Feng sacrifice at Mt. Tai, his ministers
Fenghou, Fengju, and Qibo instructed him to perform the Feng at the Eastern
Mt. Tai and the Shan at Mt. Fan as well. Only when he had thus obeyed the
omens sent from Heaven was he able to obtain immortal life!"
The emperor accordingly ordered the sacrificial utensils prepared and
journeyed to the Eastern Mt. Tai, but he found it to be a small hill of no great
height, in no way measuring up to the exalted name it bore. He therefore ordered
the sacrificial officials to conduct ceremonies there, but he did not perform the
Feng or Shan sacrifices. He later ordered Gongyu Dai to perform sacrifices and
watch for spiritual beings.
In the summer the emperor proceeded to Mt. Tai to renew the Feng
sacrifice, as was appropriate every five years, using the same ceremony he had
used before except that he also performed the Shan sacrifice at Stone Gate. Stone
Gate is located at the southern foot of Mt. Tai. According to a number of the
magicians, it is the gateway to the village of the immortals and for this reason
The Han was chronically short of horses. and particularly at this time when large armies
were needed for the campaigns against Ferghana and the Xiongnu. The five characters which
follow this in the text appear to be a later addition and have nor been translated.
F eng and Shan Sacrifices 51
the emperor performed the Shan in person there.
Five years later (98 BC) he once more went to Mt. Tai to renew the Feng
sacrifice, and on his way back to the capital he sacrificed at Mt. Hengg.
The sacrifices instituted by the present emperor, then, are those to the Great
Unity and the Earth Lord, as well as the suburban sacrifices performed by the
ruler in person every three years. He has established the Feng and Shan sacrifices
for the Han dynasty, which are renewed every five years, as well as the five
sacrifices to the Great Unity recommended by Miu Ji, the Three Unities, the
Dark Ram, the Horse Traveller, the Red Star, and those at the altars recom-
mended by Kuan Shu, with officials to perform the ceremonies to them at the
appropriate seasons. All of the last six groups of sacrifices are under the
jurisdiction of the master of invocations.
As for the Eight Spirits and the other deities, Bright Life, Mt. Fan, and
similar sacrificial places mentioned, if the emperor happens to be passing by,
then sacrifices are performed to them, and when he has departed, they are
discontinued. Any places of sacrifice instituted by the magicians themselves are
left to their own charge; they continue as long as the particular man is living,
and are discontinued at his death, the sacrificial officials of the government
having nothing to do with them. All other sacrifices are carried on as they were
in previous reigns.
The present emperor, after performing the Feng and Shan, made another
tour twelve years later (98 BC), visiting all the Five Peaks and the Four
Watercourses. The magicians who had been instructed to watch for spirit beings,
and those who had been sent to search for the island of Penglai in the sea, failed
completely during that time to produce any evidence of success. Gongsun Qing
was supposed to be observing the spirits, but he too had nothing to show for his
efforts and could only make excuses by pointing out the footprints of giant men.
Thus the emperor grew increasingly weary and disgusted with the inane tales
of the magicians, and yet he was bound and snared by them and could not free
himself, for always he hoped to find one who spoke the truth. From this time
on, the magicians who came to him recommending sacrifices to this or that deity
grew even more numerous, but the results of all this are as one can see.
The Grand Historian remarks: I accompanied the emperor when he jour-
neyed about to sacrifice to Heaven and Earth, the other deities, and the famous
mountains and rivers, and when he went to perform the Feng and Shan. I entered
the Temple of Long Life and assisted at the sacrifices there when the deity spoke,
52 Han Dynasty II
and I thus had an opportunity to study and examine the ways of the magicians
and the sacrificial officials. Later I retired and wrote down in order all that I
knew about the worship of the spirits from ancient times on, setting forth both
the outside and the inside stories of these affairs. Gentlemen in later ages will
thus be able to peruse what I have written. As for the details of sacrificial plates
and utensils, the types of jades and silks offered, or the exact ritual to be followed
in presenting them -these I have left to the officials who handle such matters.
~ !
.:. i
.: f
. i
In ancient times Emperor Yu deepened the rivers and saved the empire
from flood, bringing relief and security to the nine provinces. Concerning
the waterways that were opened or diked, the river courses that were fixed,
and the canals that were constructed, I made "The Treatise on the Yellow
River and Canals".
The documents on the Xia dynasty tell us that Emperor Yu spent thirteen
years controlling and bringing an end to the floods, and during that period,
though he passed by the very gate of his own house, he did not take the time to
enter. On land he travelled in a cart and on water in a boat; he rode a sledge to
cross the mud and wore cleated shoes in climbing the mountains. In this way he
marked out the nine provinces, led the rivers along the bases of the mountains,
decided what tribute was appropriate for each region in accordance with the
quality of its soil, opened up the nine roads, built embankments around the nine
marshes, and made a survey of the nine mountains.
Of all the rivers, the Yellow River caused the greatest damage to China by
overflowing its banks and inundating the land, and therefore he turned all his
attention to controlling it. Thus he led the Yellow River in a course from Jishi
past Longmen and south to the northern side of Mt. Hua; from there eastward
along the foot of Dizhu Mountain, past the Meng Ford and the confluence of
the Luo River to Dapei. At this point Emperor Yu decided that, since the river
was descending from high ground and the flow of the water was rapid and fierce,
it would be difficult to guide it over level ground without danger of frequent
disastrous break-throughs. He therefore divided the flow into two channels,
leading it along the higher ground to the north, past the Jiang River and so to
Dalu. There he spread it out to form the Nine Rivers, brought it together again
to make the Backward-flowing River (i.e., tidal river), and thence led it into the
Gulf of Bohai.
When he had thus opened up the rivers of the nine provinces
Needless to say, this is simply a description of the course of the Yellow River in ancient
times. The passage, though not a direct quotation, is based upon the "'Tribute of Yu" section
of the Book of Documents.
54 Han Dynasty II
and fixed the outlets of the nine marshes, peace and order were brought to the
lands of the Xi a and his achievements continued to benefit the Three Dynasties
which followed.
Sometime later the Hong Canal was constructed, leading off from the lower
reaches of the Yellow River at Xingyang, passing through the states of Song,
Zheng, Chen, Cai, Cao, and Wey, and joining up with the Ji, Ru, Huai, and Si
rivers. In Chu two canals were built, one in the west from the Han River through
the plains of Yunmeng, and one in the east to connect the Yangtze and Huai
In Wu a canal was dug to connect the three mouths of the Yangtze and
the Five Lakes, and in Qi one between the Zi and Ji rivers. In Shu, Li Bing, the
governor of Shu, cut back the Li Escarpment to control the ravages of the Mo
River and also opened up channels for the Two Rivers through the region of
All of these canals were navigable by boat, and whenever there was an
overflow of water it was used for irrigation purposes, so that the people gained
great benefit from them. In addition there were literally millions of smaller
canals which led off from the larger ones at numerous points along their courses
and were employed to irrigate an increasingly large area of land, but none of
these are worth mentioning here.
c.,., r, Ximen Bao built a canal to lead off the waters of the Zhang River and
irrigate Ye, and as a result the region of Henei in the state of Wei became rich.
Another time the state of Hann, learning that the state of Qin was fond of
undertaking large projects, dispatched a water engineer named Zheng Guo to
go to Qin and persuade the ruler to construct a canal from a point on the Jing
River west of Mt. Zhong to the pass at Hukou, and from there along the Northern
Mountains east into the Luo River, a distance of over 300 li. Ostensibly the
purpose of the project was to provide irrigation for the fields, though in fact
Zheng Guo and the rulers of Hann hoped thereby to wear out the energies of the
state of Qin so that it would not march eastto attack Hann. Zheng Guo succeeded
in getting the project started, but halfway through the real nature of his mission
came to light. The Qin ruler was about to kill him, but Zheng Guo said, "It is
true that I came here originally with underhanded intentions. But if the canal is
completed, it will profit the state of Qin as well!"
The Qin ruler, deciding that this was sensible, in the end allowed him to go
ahead with the canal. When it was finished, it was used to spread muddy,
Following the reading in Han shu 29.
The Yellow River and Canals 55
silt-laden water over more than 40,000 qing of land in the area which up until
this time had been very brackish, bringing the yield of the land up to one zhang
per acre (mu).
As a result the area within the Pass was converted into fertile
fields and no longer suffered from lean years; Qin became rich and powerful
and eventually was able to conquer all the other feudal lords and unite the
empire. In honour of its builder the canal was named Zheng Guo Canal.
Thirty-nine years after the founding of the Han (168 BC), in the reign of
Emperor Wen, the Yellow River overflowed its banks at Suanzao and destroyed
the Metal Embankment east of there. Accordingly a large force of labourers was
called up in Dong Province to repair the break.
Some forty years later,
during the era yuanguang (134-129 BC) of the
present emperor, the Yellow River broke its banks at Huzi, flowing southeast
into the marsh of Juye and joining up with the Huai and Si rivers. The emperor
accordingly ordered Ji An and Zheng Dangshi to raise a force of labourers and
repair the breach, but no sooner had they done so than the river broke through
again. At this time Tian Fen, the marquis of Wuan, was serving as chancellor
and his income came from an estate in Shu. Shu is located north of the Yellow
River, and since the break was on the southern side, suffered no damage from
floods; on the contrary the revenue from the estate actually increased. Tian Fen
said to the emperor, "Breaks in the banks of the Yangtze and the Yellow River
are all the work of Heaven. It is no easy task to stop up such breaks forcibly by
human labour, and indeed to do so would hardly be in accord with the will of
Heaven!" The numerologists and those who interpret the emanations in the sky
supported him in this view and the emperor therefore hesitated and for a long
time made no further attempts to repair the break.
At this time Zheng Dangshi, who was serving as minister of agriculture,
said to the emperor, "Up to now grain from east of the Pass has been brought to
the capital by being transported up the Wei River. The operation requires six
months to complete and the course is over 900 li and beset with dangerous
places. Now if we were to dig a canal from the Wei River, beginning at Chang' an
and following along the Southern Mountains to the Yellow River, the distance
could be reduced to something over 300 li. We would have a much easier route
0neqing was equal to about fifty-seven English acres, and there were 5DOmu in a qing.
One zhong was equal to ten hu, or about five-and-a-half bushels.
Sima Qian's figure is misleading; the break took place in 132 BC, only thirty-six years
after the earlier break.
56 Han Dynasty II
for transporting grain, and the trip could be accomplished in three months.
Moreover, the people living along the canal could utilize the water to irrigate
over I 0,000 qing of farmland. Thus we could reduce the time and labour
required to haul grain and at the same time increase the fertility of the lands
within the Pass and obtain a higher yield."
Approving the plan, the emperor ordered Xu Bo, a water engineer from Qi,
to plot the course of the transport canal and called up a force of 20,000 or 30,000
labourers to do the digging. After three years of labour, it was opened for use
in hauling grain and proved extremely beneficial. From this time on grain
transport to the capital gradually increased, while the people living along the
canal were able to make considerable use of the water to irrigate their fields.
After this, Pan Xi, the governor of Hedong, said to the emperor, "Every
year over 1,000,000 piculs of grain are transported to the capital from the area
east of the mountains. Since it is brought up the Yellow River, it must be shipped
through the dangerous narrows at Dizhu Mountain, where much of it is lost, and
in addition the cost of transportation is very high. Now if we were to dig canals
from the Fen River to irrigate the region of Pishi and parts of Fen yin, and other
canals from the Yell ow River to irrigate Puban and the rest of Fen yin, I believe
we could bring 5,000 qing of land under cultivation. At present this region is
nothing more than a strip of uncultivated land along the Yellow River where
the people graze their flocks but, if it were turned into irrigated fields, I think it
could be made to yield over 2,000,000 piculs of grain. This could be transported
up the Wei River to the capital and would be no more expensive than grain
produced in the area within the Pass. It would then no longer be necessary to
haul grain from the east past the dangerous part of the river at Dizhu."
The emperor considered this a sound idea and called up a force of 20,000
or 30,000 labourers who worked for several years diging canals and opening up
the fields. But the Yellow River changed its course so that the water did not flow
into the canals properly and the farmers who worked the newly opened fields
were unable to produce enough to repay the cost of planting. After some time,
therefore, the newly opened canals and fields in Hedong were abandoned and
the area was turned over to settlers from the state of Yue. What little revenue it
produced was allotted to the privy treasury.
Following this, someone sent a letter to the throne proposing that a road be
opened up between the Bao and Ye rivers, and that they be used to transport
grain. The emperor referred the proposal to the imperial secretary Zhang Tang
who, after conducting an inquiry, reported as follows: "At present anyone
The Yellow River and Canals 57
wishing to travel to the province of Shu must go over the Old Road, a very long
and roundabout route beset with steep places. Now if the Bao and Ye rivers were
dredged and a road opened between them, it would provide a much more level
route and the distance could be reduced to 400 li. The Bao River runs into the
Mian River and the Ye River runs into the Wei, both of which can be used to
transport grain. Therefore grain could be brought from Nanyang up the Mian
River and into the Bao, and where the Bao ends it could be transported overland
by carts for a distance of 100 li or so to where the Ye begins, and from there
down the Wei to Chang'an. Thus grain from Hanzhong could be brought to the
capital. At the same time, by making use of the Mian River, grain could be
transported from east of the mountains in unlimited quantities and the route
would be much more convenient than the present one up the Yellow River and
through the narrows at Dizhu. Moreover, the region of the Bao and Ye is as rich
in timber and bamboo as the provinces of Ba and Shu."
The emperor approved the proposal and appointed Zhang Tang's son Zhang
Ang as governor of Hanzhong, calling up a force of 20,000 or 30,000 labourers
and setting them to work constructing the Bao and Y e road and waterway which
extended more than 500 li . When the road was finished it did in fact prove to
be much shorter and more convenient than the old route, but the rivers were too
full of rapids and boulders to be used for transporting grain.
Following this, a man named Zhuang Xiongpi reported to the emperor that
the people of Linjin wished to dig a canal from the Luo River to be used to
irrigate some 10,000 qing of land east of Chongquan. The land in this area was
brackish, but the people believed that if it could be irrigated with water led in
from the Luo River, it could be made to produce ten piculs per acre. The emperor
therefore called up a labour force of over 10,000 men and set them to work
digging a canal leading off from the Luo River at Zheng and extending to the
foot of Mt. Shangyan. There, however, it was found that the banks of the canal
kept collapsing, so the men dug wells, some of them over forty zhang deep, at
various points along the course and induced the water to flow from one well to
another. Thus the water disappeared from sight at Mt. Shangyan and flowed
underground to the eastern side of the mountain, a distance of over ten li. This
was the beginning of the so-called well-canals. In the course of the digging a
dragon bone was discovered and the canal was therefore named Dragon Head
Canal. It has been over ten years now since it was constructed but, although the
water flows through it fairly well, the land has not yet shown much improve-
Han Dynasty If
More than twenty years had passed since the Yellow River broke through
its banks at Huzi. The break had not been repaired and the harvests were
frequently poor, the damage being particularly severe in Liang and Chu. The
emperor, having gone east to perform the Feng and Shan sacrifices (110 BC),
made a tour through the empire, sacrificing to various mountains and rivers. The
following year (I 09 BC) there was a drought (the purpose of which, it was said,
was to dry out the earth of the altar mound constructed for the Feng sacrifice),
and very little rain fell. The emperor ordered Ji Ren and Guo Chang to raise a
force of 20,000 or 30,000 men and close the break in the banks of the Yellow
River at Huzi, while he himself went east to pray for rain at the Altar of the Ten
Thousand Mile Sands. On his way back to the capital he stopped to inspect the
break in person and cast offerings of jade and a white horse into the river. He
ordered all the courtiers and ministers who were accompanying him, from the
generals on down, to carry bundles of brushwood and help close the break in
the embankment. As it happened, the people of Dong Province had just burned
off all their grasslands, so there was very little brushwood to be found in the
area. The workmen were therefore obliged to sink lengths of bamboo from the
Qi Park to form a weir across the opening. As the emperor surveyed the break,
he was filled with despair at the difficulty of the task and composed this song:
The river broke through at Huzi;
What could we do?
Beneath its rushing waves,
Villages all became rivers.
The villages have all become rivers
And there is no safety for the land.
Our labours know no rest,
Our mountains crumble.
Our mountains crumble
And the marsh of Juye overflows.
Even the fish lament
As the winter days press near.
The river raged from its boundaries,
It has left its constant course.
Dragons and water monsters leap forth,
Free to wander afar.
Let it return to the old channel
And we will truly bless the gods.
The Yellow River and Canals
But for my journey to the Feng and Shan,
How would I have known what it was like?
Ask the Lord of the River for me,
"Why are you so cruel?
Your surging inundations will not cease;
You grieve my people!
The city of Niesang is awash;
The Huai and Si brim over,
So long, and yet you will not return -
You overstep the watery bounds!"
The river rages on,
Its wild waters tossing. _
It swirls back to the north,
A swift and dangerous torrent.
We bring the long stakes
And cast the precious jade.
The Lord of the River hears our plea
But there is not enough brushwood.
There is not enough brushwood -
The fault of the people of Wey.
They have wasted the land with fi re -
What can we use to check the waters?
We sink the forest bamboo
And ballast the weir with stones.
We will stem the break at Xuanfang
And bring ten thousand blessings!
Thus they finally succeeded in closing the gap at Huzi and built a temple
on top of the embankment called the Temple of Xuanfang. They led the waters
of the river off to the north in two channels so that it returned to the course it
had followed in the time of Emperor Yu. Safety was restored to the regions of
Liang and Chu, and they no longer suffered any damage from flood waters.
After this the men who were concerned with such affairs all rushed to the
emperor with proposals for utilizing the rivers to greater advantage. As a result
canals were dug in Shuofang, Xi he, He xi, and Jiuquan to draw off water from
the Yellow River or smaller rivers in the valleys and use it to irrigate the fields.
Within the Pass the Fu and Lingzhi canals were constructed, making use of the
Han Dynasty II
water of various rivers in the region; in Ru 'nan and liujiang water was drawn
off from the Huai River; the Donghai from the marsh of Juding; and at the foot
of Mt. Tai from the Wen River. In all these places canals were dug to water the
fields, providing irrigation for over 10,000 qing of land in each area. In addition
many other small canals and waterways through the mountains were opened up,
but they are too numerous to describe here. Of all these exploits, however, the
most outstanding was the closing of the break in the Yellow River at Xuanfang.
The Grand Historian remarks: I have climbed Mt. Lu in the south to observe
the courses which Emperor Yu opened up for the nine tributaries of theY angtze.
From there I journeyed to Kuaiji and Taihuang and, ascending the heights of
Gusu, looked out over the Five Lakes. In the east I have visited the confluence
of the Yellow and Luo rivers, Dapei, and the Backward-.flowing River, and have
travelled along the waterways of the Huai, Si, Ji, Ta, and Luo rivers. In the west
I have seen Mt. Min and the Li Escarpment in the province of Shu, and I have
journeyed through the north from Longmen to Shuofang. How tremendous are
the benefits brought by these bodies of water, and how terrible the damages! I
was among those who carried bundles of brushwood on their backs to stem the
break at Xuanfang and, deeply moved by the song of Huzi, I made this treatise
on the Yellow River and the Canals.
The purpose of currency is to provide a medium of exchange between
farmers and merchants, but in extreme cases it is subject to all kinds of
clever manipulation. As a result, the great landholders increase their power
and men compete for the opportunity to turn a neat profit, abandoning the
pursuit of agriculture, which is basic, to follow the secondary occupations
of commerce. Thus I made "The Treatise on the Balanced Standard",
showing how these changes come about.
When the Han dynasty came to power, it inherited the evils left by the Qin.
The able-bodied men were all away with the army, while the old and underaged
busily transported supplies for them. There was much hard work and little
wealth. The Son of Heaven himself could not fmd four horses of the same colour
to draw his carriage, many of his generals and ministers were reduced to riding
about in ox carts, and the common people had nothing to lay away in their
Because the currency of the Qin was heavy and cumbersome to use, the
Han ordered the people to mint new coins. The unit for gold was one catty. The
laws and prohibitions of the Qin having been simplified or done away with,
people who were intent upon making a profit by underhanded means began to
hoard their wealth, buying up the commodities on the market, so that the price
of goods shot up. Grain put up for sale brought as much as l 0,000 cash
a picul,
and a horse fetched I 00 catties of gold.
After peace had been restored to the empire, Gaozu issued an order
forbidding merchants to wear silk or ride in carriages, and increased the taxes
that they were obliged to pay in order to hamper and humiliate them.
the reigns of Emperor Hui and Empress Li.i, because the empire had only just
Ten thousand copper cash were equal in value to one catty of gold.
The traditional Chinese practice of making life difficult for the merchants in order to
encourage agriculture.
62 Han Dynasty II
begun to recover from the period of war and confusion, the laws concerning the
merchants were relaxed, though the sons and grandsons of merchant families
were prohibited from holding government office.
The salaries of officials and the costs of the administration were estimated,
and the necessary funds collected from the people in the form of a poll tax.
Revenues from the natural resources of mountains, rivers, parks, and lakes, as
well as those from the government market places and from other kinds of taxes,
were all used for the private maintenance of the Son of Heaven or the feudal
lords and princesses from whose lands they were collected, and were not entered
in the budget for the empire as a whole. The amount of grain transported from
east of the mountains each year to supply the officials of the capital did not
exceed 200,000 or 300,000 piculs.
In the time of Emperor Wen, because the "elm-pod" coins, minted earlier,
had grown too numerous and light in weight, new coins were cast weighing four
shu and inscribed with the words banliang or "half-tael". The people were
allowed to mint them at will.
As a result the king of Wu, though only a feudal
lord, was able, by extracting ore from the mountains in his domain and minting
coins, to rival the wealth of the Son of Heaven. It was this wealth which he
eventually used to start his revolt. Similarly, Deng Tong, who was only a high
official, succeeded in becoming richer than a vassal king by minting coins. The
coins of the king of Wu and Deng Tong were soon circulating all over the
empire, and as a result the private minting of coinage was finally prohibited.
At this time the Xiongnu were making frequent raids across the northern
border, and farming garrisons had to be set up along the frontier to stop them.
The grain produced by these garrisons alone, however, was not sufficient to feed
all the border troops. The government then called upon the people to supply
grain, offering honourary ranks to those who were prepared to send grain to the
frontier. The ranks varied with the amount of grain but reached as high as the
eighteenth rank, calleddashuzhang. Later, during Emperor Jing's reign, because
of the drought which prevailed in Shang Province and the west, the order
concerning the sale of ranks was revived, but the price of the ranks was reduced
in order to attract more people. In addition men who had been condemned to
duty on the frontier for a year, together with the women of their families who
were sentenced to menial service in the government workshops, were permitted
Though Gaozu had allowed the people to mint the "elm-pod" shaped coins, there is
evidence that Empress Lii put a stop to the practice of private minting.
The Balanced Standard
to buy off their sentences by transporting grain to the government. More pastures
for raising horses were opened up in order to supply the needs of the nation, and
the number of palaces and pleasure towers, carriages and horses at the disposal
of the emperor was increased.
By the time the present emperor had been on the throne a few years, a period
of over seventy years had passed since the founding of the Han. During that time
the nation had met with no major disturbances so that, except in times of flood
or drought, every person was well supplied and every family had enough to get
along on. The granaries in the cities and the countryside were full and the
government treasuries were running over with wealth. In the capital the strings
of cash had been stacked up by the hundreds of millions until the cords that
bound them had rotted away and they could no longer be counted. In the central
granary of the government, new grain was heaped on top of the old until the
building was full and the grain overflowed and piled up outside, where it spoiled
and became unfit to eat. Horses were to be seen even in the streets and lanes of
the common people or plodding in great numbers along the paths between the
fields, and anyone so poor as to have to ride a mare was disdained by his
neighbours and not allowed to join the gatherings of the villagers. Even the
keepers of the community gates ate fine grain and meat. The local officials
remained at the same posts long enough to see their sons and grandsons grow
to manhood, and the higher officials occupied the same positions so long that
they adopted their official titles as surnames. As a result, men had a sense of
self-respect and regarded it as a serious matter to break the law. Their first
concern was to act in accordance with what was right and to avoid shame and
At this time, however, because the net of the law was slack and the people
were rich, it was possible for men to use their wealth to exploit others and to
accumulate huge fortunes. Some, such as the great landowners and powerful
families, were able to do anything they pleased in the countryside, while the
members of the imperial house and the nobility, the high officials and the lesser
government officers, strove to outdo each other in luxurious living; there was
no limit to how far each would go in aping the houses, carriages, and dress of
his social superiors.
But it has ever been the law of change that when things reach their period
of greatest flourishing, they must begin to decay. Shortly after this time Zhuang
Zhu, Zhu Maichen, and others invited the people of the region of Eastern Ou to
move to China, intervening in the war between the two kingdoms of Yue, and
64 Han Dynasty ll
the area between the Huai and Yangtze rivers, to which they were transferred,
was put to great trouble and expense. Tang Meng and Sima Xiangm opened up
a road to the land of the barbarians in the southwest, cutting a passage over I ,000
li long through the mountains in order to broaden the provinces of Ba and Shu,
but the undertaking exhausted the people of these regions. Peng Wu established
relations with the peoples of Weimo and Chaoxian and set up the province of
Canghai on the Korean Peninsula, but the move caused great unrest among the
inhabitants of the neighbouring states of Y an and Qi.
After Wang Hui made his unsuccessfullttempt to ambush the Xiongnu at
Mayi, peaceful relations with the Xiongnu came to an end and they began to
invade and plunder the northern border. Armies had to be dispatched time and
again and could not be disbanded, causing extreme hardship to the empire. As
the conflicts became fiercer day by day, men set off to war carrying their packs
of provisions, while those left behind at home had to send more and more goods
to keep them supplied. Those at home and those on the frontier were kept busy
guarding the empire and supplying rations until the common people were
exhausted and began to look for some clever way to evade the laws. The funds
of the government were soon used up and, in order to supply the deficiencies,
it was agreed that men who presented goods would be appointed to official
positions, and those who made appropriate contributions would be pardoned for
their crimes. The old system of selecting officials on the basis of merit fell into
disuse, and modesty and a sense of shame became rare qualities. Military
achievement was now the key to advancement. The law were made stricter and
more detailed, and officials whose main job was to make a profit for the
government for the first time appeared in office.
After this the Han generals every year led forces of 20,000 or 30,000 cavalry
in attacks on the barbarians and the general of carriage and cavalry Wei Qing
seized the region south of the bend of the Yellow River from the Xiongnu and
fortified Shuofang.
At the same time the Han government was building the road through the
region of the southwestern barbarians, employing a force of 20,000 or 30,000
labourers. Provisions for them had to be carried for a distance of 1,000 /i, and
of ten or more zhang sent out, only one picul, or less than one tenth of the original
amount, reached its destination. In addition gifts of money were distributed to
Following the reading in Han shu 24B. Detailed accounts of these events will be found
in the chapters dealing with foreign peoples later on in this volume.
The Balanced Standard 65
the inhabitants of Qiong and Po in order to win their support. Several years
passed, however, and the road was still not completed. In the meantime, the
barbarians several times attacked the labourers, and the Han officials were
forced to call out troops to control them. All the taxes from the region of Ba and
Shu were insufficient to cover the expenses of the road, and it was decided to
invite wealthy families to open up farms in the region of the southern barbarians;
for any grain which they turned over to the government, they would be
reimbursed in cash by the financial officers of the ministry of agriculture in the
capital. Again, when the road was opened up to the province ofCanghai in the
east, the expenditures for labourers were just as great. In addition, a force of
over I 00,000 men was conscripted to build the fortifications at Shuofang and
guard them. Provisions for all these undertakings had to be transported great
distances over land and water, and the burden feU upon all the regions east of
the mountains. Expenditures ran from two to three to ten billions of cash and
the government treasuries became emptier then ever. An order was issued
allowing those who presented male or female slaves to the government to be
exempted from military and labour services for lifetime or, if the donor was
already a palace attendant and therefore exempt, to receive an advancement in
rank. It even reached the point where men were made palace attendants because
of donations of sheep!
Four years later ( 124 BC) the general in chief Wei Qing, commanding six
generals and an army of over l 00,000, attacked the Xiongnu leader known as
the Wise King of the Right, beheading or capturing 15,000 of the enemy. The
following year Wei Qing again led six generals in another attack on the
barbarians, beheading or capturing 19,000 men. Those who had beheaded or
captured enemy soldiers were presented with gifts totalling over 200,000 catties
of gold. Generous gifts were also given to the tens of thousands of enemy
captives, and food and clothing were supplied to them by the government. The
men and horses killed on the Han side amounted to over 100,000. In addition,
there were the expenses for weapons and the cost of provisions transported to
the armies.
By this time the reserves of cash stored up by the ministry of agriculture
from earlier years had been exhausted and the revenue from taxes had likewise
been used up, so that there was not enough money left to support the troops.
When the officials reported this fact to the emperor, he replied, "I have been
told that the Five Emperors of antiquity did not necessarily follow the same
policies, and yet they all achieved good government; that the rulers Yu and Tang
Han Dynasty II
did not necessarily use the same kind of laws, though they were both worthy
kings. The roads they followed were different, but allied to the same ultimate
goal of establishing virtue. Now peace has not yet been restored to the northern
frontier, a fact which grieves me deeply. Recently the general in chief attacked
the Xiongnu and beheaded or captured 19,000 of the enemy, and yet the rewards
and supplies due him and his men are held back and they have not yet received
them. Let deliberations begin on a law to allow the people to purchase honourary
ranks and to buy mitigations of punishments or freedom from prohibitions
against holding office."
The officials responded by requesting the establishment of honourary
official positions, to be known as "ranks of military merit". One grade of the
rank was to be priced at 170,000 cash, the total value of the sale amounting to
over 300,000 catties of gold.
Among the purchasers of"ranks of military merit",
those of the guanshou or fifth grade or above were to be accorded the same
privileges as regular government officials of the fifth lord class. Those guilty of
some crime were to have two grades deducted from the ranks they purchased,
but were to be allowed to purchase as high as leqing, the eighth grade. The
purpose of this was to honour military achievements, but where such achieve-
ments were particularly numerous, the awards exceeded the limits set for the
various grades, so that those with the most distinguished records were enfeoffed
as marquises or appointed as high government officials. As a result, so many
avenues to official position were opened and such confusion reigned that the
whole system of government offices broke down in chaos.
After Gongsun Hong secured the post of chancellor because of his recom-
mendations for correcting the conduct of ministers according to the principles
of the Spring and Autumn Annals, and after Zhang Tang was made commandant
of justice because of his enforcement of decisions on the basis of severe laws,
the legal principle that anyone who allows a criminal act to go unreported is as
guilty as the criminal himself came into being, and the law officials were busily
engaged in conducting investigations of officials who ignored, impeded, or
criticized the orders of the government.
The following year ( 122 BC) the plans for revolt laid by the kings of
Huainan, Hengshan, and Jiangdu came to light. The high ministers conducted
a thorough investigation of everyone connected with the affair and ferreted out
all the conspirators. Twenty or thirty thousand persons were tried and executed.
The sentence is obscure, and commentators differ widely in their interpretations.
The Balanced Standard 67
The government authorities became increasingly cruel and exacting and the
laws more precise and detailed than ever.
At this time the emperor had sent out a call for men of unusual character
and learning to take positions in the government, and some of them had reached
the highest offices. Among them Gongsun Hong, who became chancellor, made
a point of using coarse bedding and refusing to eat highly spiced food, hoping
to set an example for the empire. His efforts, however, had no effect upon the
customs of the time and men only devoted themselves with greater energy to
the pursuit of reward and gain.
The following year the general of swift cavalry Huo Qubing led another
attack on the Xiongnu, returning with 40,000 enemy heads. In the fall the Hunye
king, leading 30,000 or 40,000 of his barbarian subjects, came to surrender to
the Han. The Han dispatched 20,000 carriages to fetch them, and when they
arrived in the capital, gifts and rewards were bestowed upon them, as well as
upon the Han soldiers who had distinguished themselves. This year the total
expenditures amounted to over ten billion cash.
Some ten or more years previous to this the Yellow River had broken its
banks in the region of Guan, and during the years that followed, the regions of
Liang and Chu suffered repeatedly from floods. The provinces bordering the
river would no sooner repair the embankments then the water would break
through again, so that an incalculable amount of money was spent in vain.
Some time after this Pan Xi, hoping to avoid the difficulties involved in
transporting grain past Mt. Dizhu, on the Yellow River, began work on irrigation
canals from the Yellow and Fen rivers which were intended to open up the region
between the two rivers for farming, a project requiring a labour force of 20,000
or 30,000 men. Zheng Dangshi , considering the transport of grain via the Wei
River to be too lengthy and circuitous, began work on a canal running directly
from Chang' an to Huayin, a project which required a similar number of
labourers. Still other canals were under construction at Shuofang, requiring the
same number of labourers. Each of these projects had been in progress for two
or three years without reaching completion and each necessitated expenditures
ranging into billions of cash.
The emperor also turned his attention to the large-scale raising of horses
for use in campaigns against the barbarians. Twenty or thirty thousand horses
were brought to the region of Chang'an to be pastured, but as there were not
enough conscripts in the area within the Pass to train and take care of them, more
men were recruited from the neighbouring provinces. The Xiongnu barbarians
68 Han Dynasty ll
who had surrendered were all supposed to be fed and clothed by the government,
but funds in the government offices proved insufficient, and the emperor was
obliged to reduce the expenses of his own table, dispense with his carriage drawn
by four horses of matched colour, and pay out money from his private reserves
in order to make up the deficiency.
The next year ( 120 BC) the lands east of the mountains were troubled by
floods and many of the people were reduced to starvation. The emperor
dispatched envoys to the provinces and kingdoms to empty the granaries and
relieve the sufferings of the poor, but there was not enough food to go around.
He then called upon wealthy families to make loans to the needy, but even this
did not remedy the situation. At last he ordered some 700,000 of the poor to
emigrate and resettle in the lands west of the Pass and the region of New Qin
south of Shuofang. Food and clothing were to be supplied to them for the first
few years by the government officials, who were also instructed to lend them
what they needed to start a livelihood. Envoys sent to supervise the various
groups of emigrants poured out of the capital in such numbers that their carts
and carriage covers were constantly in sight of each other on the roads. The
expenses of the move were estimated in the billions, the final sum reaching
incalculable proportions.
By this time the funds of the government officials were completely exhaust-
ed. The rich merchants and big traders, however, were busy accumulating
wealth and forcing the poor into their hire, transporting goods back and forth in
hundreds of carts, buying up surplus commodities and hoarding them in the
villages; even the feudal lords were forced to go to them with bowed heads and
beg for what they needed. Others who were engaged in smelting iron and
extracting salt from sea water accumulated fortunes amounting to tens of
thousands of catties of gold, and yet they did nothing to help the distress of the
nation, and the common people were plunged deeper and deeper into misery.
With this the emperor consulted his high ministers on plans to change the
coinage and issue a new currency in order to provide for the expenses of the
state and to suppress the idle and unscrupulous landlords who were acquiring
such huge estates. At this time there were white deer in the imperial park, while
the privy treasury was in possession of a considerable amount of silver and tin.
It had been over forty years since Emperor Wen changed over to the four-shu
copper coins. From the beginning of Emperor Wu's reign, because revenue in
coin had been rather scarce, the government officials had from time to time
extracted copper from the mountains in their areas and minted new coins, while
The Balanced Standard 69
among the common people there was a good deal of illegal minting of coins,
until the number in circulation had grown beyond estimate. As the coins became
more numerous and of poorer quality, goods became scarcer and higher in price.
The officials therefore advised the emperor, saying, "In ancient times, currency
made of hides was used by the feudal lords for gifts and presentations. At present
there are three types of metal in use: gold, which is the most precious; silver,
which ranks second; and copper, which is third. The ' half-tael ' coins now in use
are supposed by law to weigh four shu, but people have tampered with them to
such an extent, illegally filing off bits of copper from the reverse side, that they
have become increasingly light and thin and the price of goods has accordingly
risen. Such currency is extremely troublesome and expensive to use, especially
in distant regions."
The white deer in the imperial park were accordingly killed and their hides
cut into one-foot squares, embroidered at the borders with silk thread of different
colours, and made into hide currency. Each square was valued at 400,000 cash.
When members of the imperial house and the nobility appeared at court in the
spring and autumn and offered their gifts to the throne, they were required to
present their jade insignia upon one of these deerskin squares before they were
allowed to proceed with the ceremony.
In addition, "white metal" coins were made from an alloy of silver and tin.
Since the dragon is most useful in the heavens, the horse most useful on earth,
and the tortoise most useful to mankind,
the coins were made in three grades.
The first was inscribed "weight eight taels" and was round, with a picture of a
dragon on it. It was called a "white x u a ~ " and was valued at 3,000 cash. The
second was inscribed "less in weight", was square, and bore a picture of a horse.
It was worth 500 cash. The third was inscribed "still less in weight", was oval
in shape, and bore a picture of a tortoise. It was valued at 300 cash. Orders were
sent to the government officials to melt down the old "half-tael" coins and mint
new three-shu coins, inscribed with their weight. Orders were also given that
all persons found guilty of illegally minting any of the new silver or copper coins
should be put to death. In spite of this, however, any number of persons in the
government and among the people were apprehended for illegally minting silver
At this time Dongguo Xianyang and Kong Jin were appointed assistants to
Because its shell may be used for divination.
70 Han Dynasty II
the ministry of agriculture and put in charge of the control of salt and iron, while
Sang Hongyang, because of his experience in money matters, was given a post
in the palace. Dongguo Xianyang was a leading salt manufacturer of Qi, and
Kong Jin a great iron smelter of Nanyang; both of them had accumulated
fortunes amounting to 100,000 catties of gold and for that reason had been
recommended for office by Zheng Dangshi. Sang Hongyang was the son of a
merchant of Luoyang who, because of his ability to work sums in his head, had
been made a palace attendant at the age of thirteen. When it came to a question
of how to make a profit, therefore, the three of them knew their business down
to the smallest detail.
By this time the laws had been made much stricter, and many of the lesser
officials had been dismissed from office as a result. Military expeditions were
frequent, but since many people had bought exemption from military service,
purchasing ranks as high as the equivalent of fifth lord, there were fewer and
fewer men left who could be called into service. The government therefore
decided to demote men of the qianfu or fifth lord rank to the level of petty
officials, making them subject to conscription; anyone who wished to avoid
service was then obliged to present a horse to the government. The petty officials
who had been dismissed were punished by being made to cut underbrush in the
Shang! in Park or work on the construction of the Kunming Lake.
The following year ( 119 BC) the general in chief Wei Qing and the general
of swift cavalry Huo Qubing marched in great force to attack the Xiongnu,
capturing or killing 80,000 or 90,000 of the barbarians. Rewards handed out for
the expedition amounted to 500,000 catties of gold. The Han armies lost
over 100,000 horses. In addition, there were the usual costs for transporting
provisions and for carriages and weapons. At this time the government treasuries
were so depleted that the fighting men received hardly any of their pay.
The officials, complaining that the three-shu coins were too light and easy
to tamper with, proposed that the provinces and feudal kingdoms be ordered to
mint five-shu coins with rims around the edge of the reverse side so that it would
be impossible to file them down without detection.
The minister of agriculture also brought to the emperor's attention a
proposal of his assistants in charge of salt and iron, Kong Jin and Dongguo
Xianyang, which read:
The lake was used to practise naval tactics in preparation for an attack on the region of
southwest China known at this time as Kunming; hence its name.
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Mountains and seas are the storehouses of heaven and earth, and
it is proper that any revenue from them should go to the privy treasury
of the Son of Heaven. Your Majesty, however, being of an unselfish
nature, has turned over the control of these natural resources to the
ministry of agriculture to supplement the income from taxes. We
propose, therefore, that the manufacture of salt be permitted to any of
the common people who are willing to supply their own capital and
agree to use implements furnished by the government. Evaporating
pans will be rented to them by the officials. At present there are
people with no fixed residence or occupation who attempt without
authority to gain control of the resources of the mountains and seas,
accumulating enormous fortunes and exploiting the poor. Countless
proposals have already been made on ways to prevent this situation.
We suggest that anyone who dares to cast his own iron vessels and
engage in the evaporation of salt be condemned to wear fetters on his
left foot, and that his vessels and other equipment be confiscated by
the government. In provinces which do not produce iron, suboffices
for the control of iron goods should be set up, subject for convenience' s
sake to the jurisdiction of the district in which they are located.
As a result of this proposal, Kong Jin and Dongguo Xianyang were sent by
post carriage to travel about the empire and put into effect their scheme for salt
and iron monopolies, establishing the necessary government bureaus. Wealthy
men who had previously been engaged in the salt and iron industries were
appointed as officials in the bureaus so that the way to official position became
even more confused, depending less and less upon the older methods of
selection, and many merchants actually got to be government officials.
The merchants, taking advantage of the frequent changes in currency, had
been hoarding goods in order to make a profit. The high officials therefore
announced to the emperor:
The provinces and kingdoms have suffered from repeated disas-
ters and many of the poorest people who had no means of livelihood
have been moved to broader and more fertile lands. To effect this, Your
Majesty has economized on food and other expenses and paid out funds
from the privy treasury to relieve the sufferings of your subjects,
liberalizing the terms of loans and taxes. And yet there are still some
who do not tum to the work of the fields, while merchants grow more
72 Han Dynasty II
numerous than ever. The poor have no stores of provisions left and
must look to the government for support.
Formerly graded taxes were levied on small carts and on the
strings of cash in the possession of merchants. We request that these
taxes be levied again in the same way as before. All merchants and
those engaged in secondary occupations, all those who lend money for
interest, who buy up goods and hoard them in the villages, and who
travel about in search of profit, although their names are not listed on
the market registers, should be required to make a declaration of their
possessions and should be taxed at the rate of one suan ( 120 cash) on
each 2;000 cash. For all craftsmen and founders who have already paid
a tax to carry on their occupation. the rate should be one suan on each
4,000 cash. All those who are not equal in rank to petty officials, or
who are not "elders "
or soldiers engaged in the defence of the northern
frontier, should be required to pay one suan for each cart; but for
merchants the rate should be two suan per cart. Boats five zhang or
more in length should be taxed one suan. Anyone hiding his posses-
sions and failing to report them, or failing to make a complete report,
should be sent to a frontier post to serve for a year and his wealth should
be confiscated. Anyone who can produce evidence that a false report
has been made should receive half of the wealth confiscated as a result.
Merchants who are enrolled in the market registers, as well as the
members of their families, should be forbidden to register any farm
lands in their names. The purpose of this would be to benefit the
farmers. Anyone found guilty of violating this law should have his
lands and field labourers confiscated.
The emperor, impressed by the words of a man named Bu Shi, summoned
him to court and made him a palace attendant, giving him the honourary rank
of zuoshuzhang and presenting him with ten qing of land. These rewards were
announced throughout the empire so that everyone might know of Bu Shi 's
Distinguished men over fifty chosen from among the common people to act as consul-
tants to government officials.
9 .
As m the case of the proposal above for the minting of three-shu coins, the text gives
only the suggestion of the officials and does not say what action was taken on it. In both cases,
however, the proposals were put into effect.
The Balanced Standard 73
Bu Shi was a native of Henan, where his family made a Jiving by farming
and animal raising. When his parents died, Bu Shi left home, handing over the
house, the lands, and all the family wealth _to his younger brother, who by this
time was full grown. For his own share he took only 100 or so of the sheep they
had been raising, which he led off into the mountains to pasture. In the course
of ten years or so, Bu Shi 's sheep had increased to over I ,000 and he had bought
his own house and fields. His younger brother in the meantime had failed
completely in the management of the farm, but Bu Shi promptly handed over
to him a share of his own wealth. This happened several times. Just at that time
the Han was sending its generals at frequent intervals to attack the Xiongnu. Bu
Shi journeyed to the capital and submitted a letter to the throne, offering to turn
over half of his wealth to the government to help in the defence of the border.
The emperor dispatched an envoy to ask if Bu Shi wanted a post in the
"From the time I was a child," Bu Shi replied, "I have been an ani-mal raiser.
I have had no experience at government service and would certainly not want
such a position."
"Perhaps then your family has suffered some injustice that you would like
to report?" inquired the envoy.
But Bu Shi answered, "I have never in my life had a quarrel with anyone.
If there are poor men in my village, I lend them what they need, and if there are
men who do not behave properly, I guide and counsel them. Where I live,
everyone does as I say. Why should I suffer any injustice from others? There is
nothing I want to report!"
"If that is the case," said the envoy, "then what is your objective in making
this offer?"
Bu Shi replied, "The Son of Heaven has set out to punish the Xiongnu. In
my humble opinion, every worthy man should be willing to fight to the death
to defend the borders, and every person with wealth ought to contribute to the
expense. If this were done, then the Xiongnu could be wiped out!"
The envoy made a complete record of Bu Shi's words and reported them
to the emperor. The emperor discussed the matter with the chancellor Gongsun
Hong, but the latter said, "The proposal is simply not in accord with human
nature! Such eccentric people are of no use in guiding the populace, but only
throw the laws into confusion. I beg Your Majesty not to accept his offer!"
For this reason the emperor put off answering Bu Shi for a long time, and
finally, after several years had passed, turned down the offer, whereupon Bu Shi
74 Han Dynasty II
went back to his fields and pastures.
A year or so later the armies marched off on several more expeditions, and
the Hunye king and his people surrendered to the Han. As a result the expendi-
tures of the government increased greatly and the granaries and treasuries were
soon empty. The following year a number of poor people were transferred to
other regions, all of them depending upon the government for their support, and
there were not enough supplies to go around. At this point Bu Shi took 200,000
cash of his own and turned the sum over to the governor of Henan to assist the
people who were emigrating to other regions. A list of the wealthy men of Henan
who had contributed to the aid of the poor was sent to the emperor and he
recognized Bu Shi 's name. "This is the same man who once offered half his
wealth to aid in the defence of the border!" he exclaimed, and presented Bu Shi
with a sum of money equivalent to the amount necessary to buy off 400 men
from military duty .
Bu Shi once more turned the entire sum over to the
government. At this time the rich families were all scrambling to hide their
wealth; only Bu Shi, unlike the others, had offered to contribute to the expenses
of the government. The emperor decided that Bu Shi was really a man of
exceptional worth after all, and therefore bestowed upon him the honours
mentioned above in order to hint to the people that they might well follow his
At first Bu Shi was unwilling to become a palace attendant, but the emperor
told him, "I have some sheep in the Shanglin Park which I would like you to
take care of.'' Bu Shi then accepted the post of palace attendant and, wearing a
coarse robe and straw sandals, went off to tend the sheep. After a year or so, the
sheep had grown fat and were reproducing at a fine rate. The emperor, when he
visited the park and saw the flocks, commended Bu Shi on his work. "It is not
only with sheep," Bu Shi commented. "Governing people is the same way. Get
them up at the right time, let them rest at the right time, and if there are any bad
ones, pull them out at once before they have a chance to spoil the flock!"
The emperor, struck by his words, decided to give him a trial as magistrate
of the district of Goushi. When his administration proved beneficial to the
people of Goushi, the emperor transferred him to the post of magistrate of
Chenggao and put him in charge of the transportation of supplies, where his
Men were allowed to purchase exemption from military service on the border for 300
cash. According to the interpretation I have followed, therefore, the emperor returned to Bu
Shi the sum of 120,000 cash, though there are other interpretations of the sentence.
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record was also outstanding. Because of his simple; unspoiled ways and his deep
loyalty, the emperor finally appointed him grand tutor to his son Liu Hong. the
king ofQi.
Meanwhile Kong Jin had been sent throughout the empire to establish the
government monopoly on the casting of iron vessels, and in the course of three
years had reached the position of minister of agriculture, ranking as one of the
nine highest officers in the government. Sang Hongyang acted as his assistant
and had charge of all affairs pertaining to accounts. Little by little they set up
the offices for equalization of goods through transportation,
by which they
hoped to achieve an equal distribution of goods. For the first time an order was
issued allowing the pelty officials to purchase promotion to higher offices by
the presentation of grain; in the case of palace attendants they were allowed to
advance as high as posts paying 600 piculs of grain.
Five years after the minting of the silver coins and the five-shu cash some
200,000 or 300,000 officials and commoners who had been condemned to death
for illegal minting of coins were pardoned by a general amnesty, while the
number whose crimes were hushed up and never came to light is beyond
computing. At the time of the amnesty (in 115 BC) over l ,000,000 persons came
forward to confess their crimes, but this can hardly be half of the number who
were actually guilty.
ln effect, the whole empire was engaged in minting silver
and copper coins. Those guilty of violations of the laws were so numerous that
the officials could not get around to punishing them all. The emperor therefore
dispatched the erudites Chu Da, Xu Yan and others to journey in groups to the
various provinces and feudal kingdoms and apprehend the great landholders and
governors or prime ministers who were conniving for their own profit.
At this time the imperial secretary Zhang Tang was at the height of his
power, with Jian Xuan and Du Zhou as his assistants. Men such as Yi Zong, Yin
Qi, and Wang Wenshu were winning high ministerial posts because of their
harsh and stem administration, and the imperial inquisitors such as Xia Lan
appeared for the first time.
Shortly before this, the minister of agriculture Yan Yi had been put to death.
Y an Yi had originally been a village head in Ji ' nan. Because of his honesty and
These were government offices which bought up goods that were cheap in one part of
the country and transported them to regions where they were scarce for resale. The purpose
was ostensibly to provide better distribution of goods throughout the nation, though it would
seem that the actual object was to make money for the government.
~ T h e text of this passage appears to be corrupt and the translation is highly tentative.
Han Dynasty II
integrity, he was gradually promoted in office until he became one of the nine
highest ministers. Mter the emperor and Zhang Tang had made the "deer
money" out of the hides of the white deer, the emperor questioned Yan Yi on
his opinion of the move. Y an Yi replied, "When the kings and marquises come
to court to offer their congratulations, they are expected to present their insignia
of green jade, which are worth several thousand cash apiece. Now, however,
they will be required to present the insignia on deer hides worth 400,000 cash.
There seems to be a certain lack of balance between the basic elements of the
ceremony and those that are only secondary." The emperor was not at all pleased
by these words.
In addition, Yan Yi was on bad terms with Zhang Tang. When someone
brought an accusation against Yan Yi for some other affair, the matter was
referred to Zhang Tang for investigation. Earlier Yan Yi had been talking with
one of his guests, when the guest remarked that some new law that had just been
put into effect did not seem very practical. Yan Yi had made no answer, but
given only a subtle wry twist of his lips. Zhang Tang sent a memorial to the
throne relating this affair and stating, "Y an Yi, one of the nine highest ministers,
having seen that the law was impractical, did not state his opinion to the emperor,
but nevertheless disapproved of it in his heart. For this offence he is deserving
of death!" From this time on, the crime known as "disapproval at heart" became
a part of the law, and most of the high ministers and officials resorted to gross
flattery in order to stay in the good graces of the emperor.
The emperor had already issued the order for levies on strings of cash and
had also heaped honours on Bu Shi, but it was soon found that no other private
citizens were willing to imitate Bu Shi 's example by donating wealth to the
government officials. The emperor therefore began to listen to as many accusa-
tions as could be brought forward against persons attempting to hide their wealth
in order to avoid the levy.
In the provinces and kingdoms there was so much illegal minting going on
that the cash had become extremely numerous and light in weight. The high
officials therefore asked that the officials in the capital who were in charge of
casting metal be ordered to mint coins with red rims, each of which would be
worth five of the five-shu cash presently in circulation. No taxes or other
payments to the government were to be accepted unless made in these coins.
The silver coins had likewise little by little become debased in value until the
people no longer regarded them as worth using. The government attempted to
halt this tendency by Jaws, but these had no effect and by the time a year or so
The Balanced Standard 77
had passed, the silver coins had gone completely out of circulation.
This same year (116 BC) Zhang Tang died, an occurrence which grieved
the common people not at all.
Two years later, the red-rimmed coins had become worthless, the people
having managed to use them while cleverly evading the intention of the law.
They were declared impractical and withdrawn from circulation.
With this an order was issued forbidding any further minting of coins in the
provinces and feudal kingdoms. All minting was to be done by three offices set
up in the Shanglin Park. Since there were already a number of coins in
circulation, it was ordered that no cash other than those minted by the three
offices should be accepted as legal tender anywhere in the empire. All copper
coins previously minted in the provinces and kingdoms were withdrawn from
circulation and melted down, the copper being turned over to the three offices.
After this there were fewer and fewer people who attempted to mint their own
cash, since the cost of making a passable imitation did not repay the effort. Only
highly skilled professional criminals continued to produce counterfeit coins.
Bu Shi was transferred to the post of prime minister of Qi. At the instigation
of Yang Ke, charges were brought forward all over the empire against men who
attempted to conceal their wealth from the levy; practically every family of
middling means or over found itself under accusation. Du Zhou was put in
charge of the investigations and, of those brought to trial, very few got off with
a light sentence. The emperor dispatched parties of assistants under the imperial
secretary and the commandant of justice to go to the various provinces and
kingdoms and examine the charges of concealed wealth. The wealth confiscated
from the people as a result of their investigations was calculated in the billions
of cash, with male and female slaves numbering in the thousands; the confis-
cated fields amounted to several hundred qing in the larger districts, and over
100 qing in the smaller ones, with a proportionate number of houses. Practically
all the merchants of middling or better means were ruined and the people,
deciding that they had better indulge in tasty food and fine clothing while they
still had the opportunity, made no effort to lay away any wealth for the future.
The government officials for their part found themselves with more and more
funds at their disposal, due to the salt and iron monopolies and the confiscations
of wealth.
The customs barrier at the Hangu Pass was moved east to enlarge the area
within the Pass, and the left and right districts of the capital were established.
Originally the minister of agriculture had charge of the salt and iron
Han Dynasty /1
monopolies, but the number of government offices and the expenses involved
proved so large that an official called the director of waterworks was set up to
take charge of the salt and iron monopolies. Later, when the confiscation of
concealed wealth was initiated by Yang Ke, the goods and funds stored in the
Shanglin Park became so numerous that the director of waterworks was ordered
to take charge of the park. The treasuries of the park were already full by this
time and had to be continually enlarged.
At this time the kingdom of Southern Yue was preparing to use its ships to
attack and drive out the Han forces in its territory. For this reason extensive
alterations were made on the Kunrning Lake, rows of observation towers built
along its borders, and ships constructed with superstructures rising ten zhang or
more and topped with banners and flags, forming a most impressive spectacle.
The emperor was so stirred by the sight that he ordered the construction of the
Terrace of Cypress Beams, which measured twenty or thirty zhang in height.
From this time on the building of imperial palaces proceeded on a more lavish
scale day by day.
The wealth confiscated as a result of the accusations was divided among
the director of waterworks, the privy treasurer, the minister of agriculture, and
the master of carriage. Each of these appointed agricultural officials who
travelled from time to time about the provinces and directed the cultivation of
the confiscated fields as soon as they were taken over from their former owners.
The male and female slaves who had been seized were assigned to the imperial
parks to raise dogs, horses, other animals, and birds, or were sent to the various
government offices for employment. The government offices became increas-
ingly confused in function and were set up in greater and greater number, while
the number of slaves moved from the provinces to the capital was so large that
only by transporting 4,000,000 piculs of grain up from the lower reaches of the
Yellow River, and adding it to the grain bought up by the officials, was the
capital able to keep itself adequately supplied.
When Suo Zhong informed the emperor that among the sons of the old
established families and the rich merchants there were many who engaged in
cock fighting, horse racing, hunting, and gambling, thereby setting a bad
example for the common people, the emperor ordered the officials to arrest such
persons for violation of the laws and regulations. By getting one suspect to
implicate his associates as well, they managed to drag in several thousand
persons, who were called "rooted-out convicts". If those arrested were willing
to pay a sufficient price to the government, however, they were pardoned and
The Balanced Standard 79
even appointed as palace attendants. This marked the ruin of the old system of
selecting palace attendants on the basis of merit.
At this time the lands east of the mountains were suffering from floods
caused by the Yellow River, and for several years_the harvests had been poor.
Within an area of 1,000 or 2,000 li square the distress was so great that people
were reduced at times to cannibalism. The emperor, taking pity upon the plight
of the people, issued an edict which read: "In the region of the Yangtze they
bum their fields before ploughing and flood them before hoeing. Let the famine
victims now be permitted to leave their homes and emigrate to the area between
the Huai and the Yangtze rivers in search of food, and if they wish to settle there,
let them do so." He dispatched a veritable stream of officials along the roads to
look out for the people and had grain sent down from Ba and Shu to relieve the
The following year ( 114 BC) the emperor for the first time made a tour of
the provinces and kingdoms, travelling east across the Yellow River. The
governor of Hedong Province east of the river, not expecting the emperor to
visit his territory, had made no preparations. He committed suicide. (In the
following year) the emperor travelled west, crossing the Long Mountains. The
imperial entourage arrived so suddenly that the governor of Longxi was unable
to provide food for all of the emperor' s attendants, and he too committed suicide.
The emperor then journeyed north through the Xiao Pass and, accompanied by
20,000 or 30,000 cavalry, hunted in the region of New Qin, where he inspected
the disposition of the troops along the border before returning to the capital. He
discovered that in New Qin stretches of land measuring as much as 1,000 li or
more were being left wide open without guards or patrol posts. To remedy the
situation he executed the governor of Beidi and his subordinates, who were
responsible for this state of affairs, and gave orders that the people were to be
allowed to raise horses in the districts along the border. Mares were lent out by
the government officials for a period of three years, after which they were to be
returned with an interest of one foal for every ten mares. The people of the region
were also exempted from the reports and levies on wealth, so that the region of
New Qin was soon fill ed with immigrants.
By this time the precious cauldron had been found and altars set up to the
Earth Lord and the Great Unity, and the high officials were debating on plans
for the performance of the Feng and Shan sacrifices. Throughout the empire the
provinces and feudal kingdoms were all busy repairing roads and bridges and
putting the old palaces in order, while in the various districts along the imperial
80 Han Dynasty II
highway the district officials laid in provisions and prepared their tableware in
anticipation of the imperial visit.
The next year (112 BC) the kingdom of Southern Yue rebelled and the
Qiang barbarians of the west invaded the border, pillaging and murdering.
Because the region east of the mountains was still suffering from a lack of food,
the emperor declared a general amnesty to the empire. With the prisoners
thereby released, and the men trained in the south for service on the towered
ships - a force of over 200,000 in all - an attack was launched on Southern
Yue. At the same time 20,000 or 30,000 cavalry men from the provinces of
Henei, Hedong, and Henan were sent west to attack the Qi.ang barbarians.
Another 20,000 or 30,000 were sent across the Yellow River to fortify the
western border at Lingju. The provinces of Zhangye and Jiuquan were set up,
and in the provinces of Shang, Shuofang, Xihe, and Hexi, officials in charge of
the opening of new lands, as well as soldiers designated to garrison the lands
along the border, numbering 600,000 men, were set to working the lands in
garrison farms. Roads were repaired and provisions sent to the forces from the
central part of the empire. All of the men were dependent upon the ministry of
agriculture for their supplies, although the distance over which supplies had to
be transported was anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 li.
Since there were not enough arms to supply the men on the border, weapons
were dispatched from the imperial armoury and workshops to make up the
deficiency. There was also a serious lack of horses for carriages and cavalry
and, since the government officials had so little money, they found it difficult
to buy up enough to keep the troops supplied. The government therefore issued
an order to everyone, from the feudal lords down to officials of the 300 picul
class, commanding them to donate a specified number of stallions to the
government, depending upon their rank. At village posts throughout the empire
men were set to breeding colts. for which they received a certain interest each
Bu Shi, at this time the prime minister of Qi , sent a letter to the throne
saying, "I have always heard that the distresses of the sovereign are a source of
shame to his subjects. Now that the kingdom of Southern Yue has revolted, I
beg that my sons and I be allowed to join the men of Qi who are skilled in naval
warfare to go and die in battle!"
The emperor responded with an edict saying, Bu Shi in person
ploughed the fields and pastured his animals, he did not work for private gain.
If he had any surplus, he immediately turned it over to the government officials
The Balanced Standard
to aid in the expenses of government. Now unhappily the empire faces this threat
from abroad, and Bu Shi, roused to action, has volunteered to go with his sons
to die in battle. Although he has not actually taken part i!l combat, it is obvious
that he bears in his heart a true sense of duty!" The emperor therefore presented
Bu Shi with the rank of marquis in the area within the Pass, along with sixty
catties of gold and ten qing of farmland. He had the action widely publicized
throughout the empire, but no one responded to the hint. Among all the hundreds
of marquises, there was not one who volunteered to join the armies in attacking
the Qiang and Yue barbarians.
In the eighth month, when the feudal lords came to present new wine in the
ancestral temples of the dynasty, the official s of the privy treasury made a close
examination of the tributes of gold which they brought with them. As a result.
over 100 marquises were tried on charges of having presented insufficient or
faulty gold and were deprived of their titles.
Following this, Bu Shi was appointed to the post of imperial secretary. After
he took over this position, he discovered that in the provinces and kingdoms the
system of government salt and iron monopolies was working to great disadvan-
tage. The utensils supplied by the government were poor in quality and high in
price, and yet at times the people were actually being forced by the officials to
buy them. In addition, because of the tax on boats, traders had diminished in
number and the price of goods gone up. He therefore asked Kong Jin to speak
on his behalf to the emperor, recommending the abolition of the boat tax. From
this time on the emperor began to di slike Bu Shi.
After three years of continuous fi ghting, the Han forces managed to
suppress the Qiang barbarians and wipe out the kingdom of Southern Yue. On
the southern border, from Panyu
on the coast to the south of Shu, seventeen
new provinces were set up. These were governed in accordance with the old
customs of the inhabitants and were not required to pay taxes. The provinces of
Nanyang, Hanzhong, and those further on, were ordered to suppl y food and
money to the officials and soldiers of the new provinces which adjoined their
respective borders, as well as horses and equipment for the relay service. From
time to time, however, there were minor uprisings in the new provinces in which
Han officials were murdered, so that the central government was obliged to
dispatch troops recruited from the south to punish the rebels. In the space of a
The region of the present city of Canton. The line of new provinces ran from here west
to present-day Sichuan Province.
82 Han Dynasty II
year over 10,000 men had been dispatched and the expenses for all of this had
to be borne by the ministry of agriculture. Because of its system of equitable
transport and its levies on salt and iron, which it used to supplement the revenue
from taxes, the ministry of agriculture was able to meet these expenses. In the
districts through which the troops passed, however, the officials, concerned only
that they should have enough funds to supply the armies without running short,
did not dare to complain of the inordinate tax burden placed upon them.
The following year, the first year of the erayuanfeng (110 BC), Bu Shi was
degraded to the post of grand tutor to the heir apparent. Sang Hongyang was
made secretary in charge of grain and put in control of the ministry of agricul-
ture, as well as taking over from Kong Jin complete supervision of the salt and
iron monopolies throughout the empire. Sang Hongyang believed that the
reason prices had risen so sharply was that the various government officials were
engaging in trade and competing against each other. Furthermore, when goods
were transported to the capital as payment for taxes from various parts of the
empire, their value often did not equal the cost of transportation. He therefore
proposed that some twenty or thirty assistants be appointed to the ministry of
agriculture who would be sent out to supervise the various provinces and
kingdoms, where they would travel about and set up the necessary transport
offices for equalizing prices, as well as salt and iron offices. In the case of distant
regions, orders were to be given that local products commanding a high price,
such as would ordinarily be carted away and sold by the traders in other regions,
should be transported to the capital in lieu of taxes. In the capital a balanced
standard office was to be set up which would receive and store these goods
brought in from various parts of the empire. The government artisans were to
be ordered to make carts and other equipment needed to put the sY\>tem into
effect. All expenses would be borne by the ministry of agriculture, whose
officials would then have complete control over all the goods in the empire,
selling when prices were high and buying when they were low. In this way the
wealthy merchants and large-scale traders, deprived of any prospect of making
big profits, would go back to farming, and it would become impossible for any
commodity to rise sharply in price. Because the price of goods would thereby
be controlled throughout the empire, the system was to be called the "balanced
The emperor agreed with this idea and gave permission for it to be put into
effect. Following this, the emperor travelled north as far as Shuofang; from there
he proceeded to Mt. Tai , journeyed along the seacoast and the northern border,
The Balanced Standard 83
and returned to the capital. He handed out gifts and awards to the places he
visited along the way, doling out over 1,000,000 rolls of silk as well as cash and
gold in the hundreds of millions, all of which the ministry of agriculture was
able to supply.
Sang Hongyang proposed that petty officials be allowed to buy office by
presenting grain to the government, and that men accused of crimes be permitted
to purchase their ransom in the same way. He also suggested that the common
people be allowed to present varying quantities of grain to the granary at Sweet
Springs in exchange for lifetime exemption from military service and guarantees
that they would not be subject to accusations leading to confiscation of their
Areas that were in need were immediately supplied by shipments of grain
from other provinces, and the various officials of the ministry of agriculture all
drew grain from east of the mountains, so that the amount transported to the
capital increased to 6,000,000 piculs annually. Within a year the granary at
Taicang in the capital and that at Sweet Springs had been filled, the frontiers
enjoyed a surplus of grain and other goods, and the transportation offices had
5,000,000 rolls of silk. Though taxes on the people had not been increased, there
w a ~ now more than enough to cover the expenditures of the empire. As a result
Sang Hongyang was rewarded with the rank of zuoshuzhang and once more
presented with 1 00 catties of gold.
This year there was a minor drought and the emperor ordered the officials
to pray for rain. Bu Shi remarked to the emperor, "The government officials are
supposed to collect what taxes they need for their food and clothing, and that is
all! Now Sang Hongyang has them sitting in the market stalls buying and selling
goods and scrambling for a profit. If Your Majesty were to boil Sang Hongyang
alive, then I think Heaven might send us rain! "
The Grand Historian remarks: When the farmers, the artisans, and the
merchants first began to exchange articles among themselves, that was when
currency came into being-tortoise shells and sea shells, gold and copper coins,
knife-shaped money and spade-shaped money. Thus its origin is very old.
Concerning the time of Emperor Ku
and the ages before him we can say
nothing, for they are too far away. The Book of Documents, however, tells us
The third of the legendary "Five Emperors of antiquity.
84 Han Dynasty II
something about the reigns of Emperors Yao and Shun, while the Book of Odes
describes the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Thus we know that in times of peace
and security, stress was laid upon the system of schools; agricultural pursuits,
which are the basis of the nation, were honoured; secondary occupations such
as trade were disparaged, and the people were taught a sense of propriety and
duty in order to discourage them from the search for profit. In periods of war
and unrest, however, the opposite situation prevailed. When a thing has reached
its height it must begin to decay, and when an age has gone to one extreme it
must tum again in the opposite direction; therefore we find periods of rude
simplicity and periods of refinement alternating with each other endlessly.
From the description of the nine provinces in the ' Tribute ofYu"
we learn
that, in the time of that ruler, each region submitted as its tribute to the throne
whatever goods it was best fitted to produce and whatever the people had the
most of. King Tang, the founderoftheShangdynasty, and King Wu, the founder
of the Zhou dynasty, both heirs to the chaos of the dynasties which preceded
them, worked to put the empire into order, causing the people to be unflagging
in their efforts, and both of them, by their diligence and circumspection,
succeeded in establishing firm rule. And yet little by little the ages after them
sank into weakness and decay.
Duke Huan of Qi, following the advice of his minister Guan Zhong,
initiated the system of buying up goods when the price was low and selling when
it was high, and of exploiting the resources of the mountains and seas, until he
had the other feudal lords paying court to him and, with what had up until then
been the little and out-of-the-way state of Qi, had won for himself the title of
dictator. Similarly the king of Wei, by following the theories of LiKe, \vas able
to secure the maximum yield from his lands and become a powerful ruler.
From the time of these men on, the empire was tom by the strife of the
warring kingdoms. Men honoured deceit and power and scoffed at benevolence
and righteousness; they put wealth and possession first and courtesy and
humility last. Thus it happened that commoners grew so rich that their wealth
was counted in the hundreds of millions, while among the poor there were those
who could not even get enough dregs and chaff to fill their bellies. The more
powerful rulers annexed the smaller fiefs and made subjects of their lords, while
in the weaker states the ruling families were wiped out and the sacrifices to their
ancestors cut off forever. So it continued until the Qin finally united all the land
15 . .
A sectiOn of the Book of Documents. Emperor Yu was the founder of the Xta dynasty.
The Balanced Standard 85
within the four seas under a single rule.
The currency of the times of Emperor Shun and the Xia dynasty consisted
of three types of metal: gold, silver, and copper; while in Zhou times there was
copper cash, knife-shaped money, cloth-shaped money, and money made of
tortoise shells or sea shells. When the Qin united the world, only two
kinds of
currency were used throughout the nation. The more valuable was that made of
gold in denominations of twenty taels. The less valuable was the copper cash,
inscribed with the words "half-tael" and weighing that amount. (Pearls, jade,
tortoise shells, sea shells, silver, tin, and similar materials, though used for
utensils or ornaments or stored away as treasures, were not employed as
currency.) The currency, however, fluctuated according to the times, having no
fixed value. At that time the ruler was busy driving back the barbarians from
the borders of the empire, while within the empire he was carrying out various
construction works and projects, so that although the men who remained at home
worked the fields, they could not supply enough to eat, and though the women
wove and spun, they could not produce enough clothing. And so we see that in
antiquity there was once a time when the entire wealth and resources of the
nation were exhausted in the service of the ruler, and yet he found them
insufficient. There was but one reason for this: the stream of circumstances
flowed so violently at that time that it made such a situation inevitable. Surely
there is nothing strange about this!
Most texts erroneously read ''three".
Th is last is of course a veiled attack on Emperor Wu. whose foreign wars and various
other expensive undertakings - "stream of circumstances", as Sima Qian euphemistically
calls them- brought the empire to the same state of exhaustion as that which prevailed under
the First Emperor of the Qin.
When Wu and Chu rose in revolt, Dou Ying, the marquis ofWeiqi, proved
to be the wisest leader among the families related to the imperial house by
marriage. He appreciated the worth of other men and as a result they all
flocked to him. He led his army to Xingyang east of the mountains and there
blocked the advance of the rebel armies. Thus I made "The Biographies of
the Marquises ofWeiqi and Wuan".
Dou Ying, the marquis of Weiqi, wac; the son of a cousin of Empress Dou,
the consort of Emperor Wen and mother of Emperor Jing. Up until his father' s
time, his famil y had been residents of Guanjin.
He himself was very fond of
supporting guests and retainers in his home.
In the reign of Emperor Wen, Dou Ying was appointed prime minister of
Wu, but later retired on grounds of ill health. When Emperor Jing first came to
the throne, Dou Ying was made steward of the household of the empress and
the heir apparent.
King Xiao of Liang was the younger brother of Emperor Jing and the
favourite son of Empress Dowager Dou. Whenever he came to court Emperor
Jing would hold a banquet for him, treating him as a brother rather than a vassal.
On one such occasion, before Emperor Jing had formall y announced his choice
for heir apparent, he remarked casually at the height of the drinking," After my
thousand years of life are over, I shall pass the rule of the empire along to the
king of Liang!"
Empress Dowager Dou was delighted at this announcement, but Dou Ying,
seizing a goblet of wine and hastening forward to offer it to the emperor, said,
"The empire is the empire of the founder, Gaozu, and it is a law of the Han
dynasty that the rule must pass from father to son! How could Your Majesty
The old home of Empress Dou. After she became empress, she summoned her relatives
to the capital.
90 Han Dynasty 11
arbitrarily hand it over to the king of Liang?"
Because of this affair Empress Dowager Dou grew to hate Dou Ying, while
he in turn came to despise his post of steward and resigned on grounds of illness.
The empress dowager then had his name removed from the roster of officials
that was kept at the palace gate so that he could no longer come and go at court
as he had in the past.
In the third year of Emperor Jing's reign, when the kings of Wu and Chu
revolted, the emperor began to cast about among the members of the imperial
house and the Dou family for able leaders and found that no one could match
the wisdom of Dou Ying. He accordingly summoned Dou Ying to an audience,
but when the later appeared before the emperor he adamantly declined to accept
any appointment, insisting that he was unfit because of illness to take on the
responsibilities of leadership. Empress Dowager Dou likewise was embarrassed
by the emperor ' s proposal to appoint Dou Ying. But the emperor refused to
listen. "At a time when the empire is faced with crisis, how can you think of
making polite excuses?" he demanded, and proceeded to appoint Dou Ying as
general in chief, presenting him with a gift of l ,000 catties of gold. Dou Ying
in tum recommended Yuan Ang, Luan Bu, and other distinguished military men
and worthy gentlemen who were not at the time employed in the govemfAent
and succeeded in having them appointed to various posts. The money presented
to him by the emperor he stored along the corridors and in the gatehouse of his
home, where his junior officers, if they needed any for military expenditures,
could help themselves to it without further ado. Not a cent of it went into his
own coffers.
Dou Ying marched east to guard Xingyang and observe the movements of
the troops of Qi and Zhao. After the armies of the seven rebellious kingdoms
had been defeated, he was enfeoffed as marquis of Weiqi , and all sorts of
gentlemen with no fixed place of employment, guests and retainers, vied with
each other in offering him their services. During the reign of Emperor Jing,
whenever there was some important matter to be discussed at court, none of the
marquises dared to try to stand on an equal footing with Zhou Yafu, the marquis
ofTiao, and Dou Ying, the marquis ofWeiqi.
In the fourth year of his reign, when Emperor Jing set up his son Prince Li
as heir apparent, he appointed Dou Ying as the boy's tutor. In the seventh year,
however, the emperor decided to dismiss Prince Li from the position of heir
apparent, and though Dou Ying several times remonstrated with him, he was
unable to prevent the move. Pleading illness once more, he retired to Laotian in
Marquises t ~ ( W e i q i and Wuan 91
the foothills of the Southern Mountains, where he lived in seclusion for several
months. Although a number of his retainers and rhetoricians attempted to make
him change his mind, he refused to return to the capitaL Among them was a man
from Liang named Gao Sui who advised him in these words: "The emperor has
the power to make you rich and honoured and the empress dowager, your
relative, can offer you intimate friendship. Now you have been appointed to
tutor the heir apparent and, in spite of your protests, he has been dismissed from
his position. Yet, though you were unable to argue your case successfully, you
have also proved yourself unable to die for your cause. Instead you have taken
yourself off on the excuse of illness and sit here, living a life of ease and
retirement, dallying with beautiful women and, with your band of followers,
passing judgement on the rest of the world. By such conduct you are deliberately
attempting, it would seem, to broadcast to everyone the faults of the ruler! But
if you should thereby incur the anger of both the emperor and the empress
dowager, I fear, General, it would mean extinction for you and your whole
Dou Ying. realizing that what he said was true, eventually returned to the
capital and attended court as before.
At this time Liu She, the marquis 0fTao, retired from the post of chancellor,
and Empress Dowager Dou several times suggested to Emperor Jing that Dou
Ying be appointed as his successor, but the emperor replied, "I hope you do not
think, Mother, that I begrudge him the post. It is only that Dou Ying tends to be
somewhat self-righteous and fond of having his own way. On numerous
occasions he has acted rather thoughtlessly, and I am afraid that it would be
difficult to entrust him with the heavy responsibilities of chancellor." In the end
Dou Ying did not get the post; instead Wei Wan, the marquis of Jianling, was
appointed chancellor.
Tian Fen, the marquis of Wuan, was a younger brother of Empress
Wang, the consort of Emperor Jing and mother of Emperor Wu; he was born
after his mother, ZangEr, had remarried into the Tian family and was living in
Changling. When Dou Ying had already become general in chief and was at the
height of his power, Tian Fen still held a rather humble post as palace attendant.
He used to go to Dou Ying's house from time to time to wait on him and serve
him his wine, bowing politely and treating Dou Ying with great courtesy as
though he himself were one of Dou Ying's sons. Toward the end of Emperor
Jing's reign Tian Fen began to enjoy increasing favour at court until he had risen
to the post of palace counsellor.
92 Han Dynasty II
Tian Fen was a very skilful talker and studied the "Cauldron Inscriptions"
and si milar works on statecraft. His sister, Empress Wang, had great respect for
his wisdom. When Emperor Jing passed away and the heir apparent. Empress
Wang' s son, was procla1med emperor, the empress for a while issued edicts in
her son's name, and many of the measures which she took to insure order and
stability in the government during the period of change were suggested to her
by Tian Fen's retainers. In the same year, the third year of the latter part of
Emperor ling's reign (141 BC), Tian Fen and his younger brother Tian Sheng
were both enfeoffed, Tian Fen as marquis of Wuan and Tian Sheng as marquis
of Zhouyang. This was done because they were both younger brothers of
Empress Dowager Wang.
Tian Fen found himself in a position of new importance at court and decided
that he would like to become chancellor. He therefore conducted himself with
great humility before his guests and retainers and worked to advance eminent
gentlemen who were li ving in retirement and secure them honourable positions,
hoping thereby to outshine Dou Ying and the elder statesmen of the time.
In the firstyearofthe erajianyuan (140 BC) Wei Wan retired from the post
of chancellor because of ill health, and the emperor began deliberations with
the court to decide who should be appointed to fill this position, as well as that
of grand commandant. Ji Fu, one of Tian Fen' s retainers, advised him, saying,
"Dou Ying has held a position of great honour for a long time and many of the
most worthy men of the empire were originally members of hi s group. Now,
although you have begun to come up in the world, you still cannot rival Dou
Ying. If the emperor offers to make you chancellor, you should therefore yield
the post to Dou Ying. If Dou Ying is made chancellor, you will surely be made
grand commandant, a position which is just as distinguished as that of chancel-
lor. In addition you will thereby gain a reputation for humility and wi sdom! "
Impressed by this advice, Tian Fen mentioned the matter in secret to his
sister, Empress Dowager Wang, asking her to drop a hint with the emperor to
this effect. As a result the emperor appointed Dou Ying as chancellor and Tian
Fen as grand commandant.
Ji Fu went to congratulate Dou Ying on his new appointment but took the
-A work in 26 sections, no longer extant, supposedly compiled by Kong Jia, the official
historian at the court of the Yellow Emperor.
Although the year is designated as the third year of the latter period of Emperor Jing 's
reign, the enfeoffments took place two months after the death l>f Emperor Jing when Empress
Dowager Wang was managing the government for her son, Emperor Wu.
Marquises ofWeiqi and Wuan 93
opportunity to deliver a grave warning: "It is Your Lordship's nature, I know,
to delight in good men and hate evil ones. At the present time it happens that
the good men have joined together in praising you and you have thereby been
able to reach the position of chancellor. And yet you hate evil, and evil men are
numerous. It will not be long before they too join together- to slander you! If
you could find some way to get along with both groups, then I believe you could
enjoy your present high position for a long time. But if not, their slanders will
drive you right out of office!" Dou Ying paid no attention to this advice.
Dou Ying and Tian Fen were both admirers of Confucian teachings, and
they combined their efforts in boosting Zhao Wan into the post of imperial
secretary and Wang Zang into that of chief of palace attendants and in bringing
the eminent Confucian scholar Master Shen of Lu to court. They also worked
for the establishment of a Bright Hall like the great audience halls of antiquity,
ordered the marquises to proceed to their territories, abolished the customs
barriers, and changed the funeral ceremonies to conform with correct ritual
practice, striving to bring about an era of peace and prosperity. In addition, they
conducted an inquiry into the members of the various branches of the imperial
family and the Dou family and expunged the names of anyone found guilty of
misconduct. At this time many of the male members of the families related to
the throne by marriage had become marquises and, since a number of them were
married to princesses of the blood, they had no desire to leave the capital and
proceed to their own territories. They were unanimously opposed to the new
order directing them to leave the capital and their criticisms of the law day after
day came to the ears of the emperor's grandmother, Empress Dowager Dou.
Empress Dowager Dou was very fond of the teachings of the Yellow
Emperor and Lao Zi , while Dou Ying, Tian Fen, Zhao Wan, Wang Zang, and
the others of their group all did their best to advance the influence of Confucian
doctrines and disparage the teachings of the Taoist school. As a result Empress
Dowager Dou grew more and more displeased with Dou Ying and his party.
Eventually, in the second year of jianyuan (139 BC), when the imperial
secretary Zhao Wan asked the emperor for permission to dispose of state affairs
himself without consulting Empress Dowager Dou, the empress dowager flew
into a rage and proceeded to expel Zhao Wan, Wang Zang, and the others from
office and to force the resignation of the chancellor Dou Ying and the grand
commandant Tian Fen. She then had Xu Chang, the marquis ofBozhi. appointed
as the new chancellor, and Zhuang Qingdi, the marquis ofWuqiang, as imperial
94 Han Dynasty 11
As a result of this affair Dou Ying and Tian Fen were both obliged to retire
to their homes to live the life of ordinary marquises. Tian Fen, however, although
holding no position in the government, still enjoyed his usuaJ favour and
intimacy with his sister, Empress Dowager Wang, and was therefore able on
occasion to express his opinion concerning affairs of state with considerable
effect. The officers and gentlemen of the empire and all who sought after profit
and position thereupon abandoned Dou Ying and flocked about Tian Fen, who
grew more arrogant in his ways with each passing day.
In the sixth year of the erajianyuan (135 BC) Empress Dowager Dou passed
away. The chancellor Xu Chang and the imperial secretary Zhuang Qingdi were
accused of delay in arranging the funeral ceremonies and were dismissed from
office. Tian Fen was then appointed chance11or and Han Anguo, the former
minister of agriculture, was made imperial secretary. The gentlemen of the
empire, the officials of the provinces, and the other marquises hastened in even
greater numbers to ally themselves with Tian Fen.
Tian Fen was rather short and unimposing in appearance but, because he
was related by birth to the emperor, he conducted himself with a very lordly air.
He believed that, since many of the marquises and kings were men of mature
years, while the emperor, who had just ascended the throne, was st;ll very young,
it was up to him as a close relative of the ruler and chancellor of the central
government to force others to submit to his will and treat him with the proper
courtesy. Otherwise, he felt, the world would have no respect for the imperial
At this time, whenever he would enter the palace to report on some affai r
connected with his duties as chancellor, he would sit for hours, and sometimes
for days, in conference with the emperor, and whatever suggestions he made
were always followed. In recommending people for office he succeeded on
occasion in having men promoted in one leap from private citizen to official of
the 2,000 picul rank. His authority in fact outweighed that of the emperor
himself, who remarked to him one day, "Have you quite finished making your
appointments and dismissals of officials? Because if you have, {think I might
like to make a few appointments too!" Another time Tian Fen asked the emperor
for the land used by the government artisans so that he could increase the
grounds of his estate, to which the emperor replied angrily, "Why yes! And
while you' re about it why don' t you go ahead and take over the imperial arsenaJ
as well!" After this last remark, Tian Fen conducted himself with somewhat
more discretion in the emperor' s presence.
Marquises oJWeiqi and Wuan 95
Once when he had invited some guests to hi s home to drink, he seated his
older brother, Wang Xin, the marquis of Gai , in a place facing south, while he
himself took the place of honour facing east. He explained that thi s arrangement
was necessary because of the honour due to himself as chancellor of the Han,
which could not be disregarded for the sake of a private family relationship such
as that of older and younger brother.
From this time on Tian Fen lived a life of increasing arrogance and
ostentation, building for himself the finest mansions in the capital, laid out with
sumptuous grounds and gardens; the merchants with their wares from the distant
provinces stood in li nes before his door. In his front hall he hung bells and drums,
with pennants on curved flagstaffs, whi le the women's quarters at the back
housed wives and maidens in the hundreds. The other nobles flocked about with
gifts of gold and jewels, dogs, horses, and trinkets for his amusement, in
quantities too great to be reckoned. Dou Ying for his part had grown more and
more estranged from the emperor since the death of Empress Dowager Dou. His
advice was no longer heeded, his power was gone, and his friends and retainers
one by one drifted away, treating him with scorn and indifference. Only General
Guan continued to respect him as before. He spent his days in si lent frustration
and despair, lavi shing his generosity on his one remaining friend, General Guan.
General Guan Fu was a native of Yingyin. His father, whose name was
Zhang Meng, had originally been a servant of Guan Ying, the marquis of
Yingyin, and had enjoyed great favour. Eventually, on the strength of the
marquis's recommendation he advanced to a post paying 2,000 piculs, and out
of gratitude he adopted the family name of his patron, being known thereafter
as Guan Meng. At the time of the revolt of Wu and Chu, Guan He, who had
Sl'CCeeded to the marquisate after the death of his father, Guan Ying, was made
a general in the command of the grand commandant Zhou Yafu. He requested
that Guan Meng be made a subordinate commander and his son Guan Fu be
allowed to accompany his father as head of a battalion of 1 ,000 men. Guan Meng
was actually too old for such a post, but the marquis pressed his request until he
succeeded in getting permission. Guan Meng was profoundly embittered by the
reluctance with which his appointment had been granted and decided that he
would never be allowed to exercise his authority with any freedom; therefore,
whenever a battle took place he always plunged into the midst of the enemy's
fortifications. Eventually he died a prisoner in the Wu camp.
According to the rules of warfare, when a father and son are both taking
part in a campaign and one of them is killed, the other is permitted to accompany
96 Han Dynasty II
the body home for burial. But Guan Fu refused to take his father's body back
home, declaring passionately, "I would far rather seize the head of the king of
Wu or one of his generals and thereby avenge my father's death! " Donning his
armour and taking up his halberd, he went about the camp, gathering together
twenty or thirty stalwart young friends of his who were willing to accompany
him. When the group emerged from the gate of the Han camp, however, none
of the men dared advance any further. In the end Guan Fu, with only two
companions and ten or twelve mounted attendants, galloped off to the encamp-
ment of the Wu army, fighting his way right up to the headquarters of the Wu
general and killing or wounding twenty or thirty of the enemy. When he found
that he could advance no further, he wheeled about and galloped back to the
Han fortifications. His companions had lost almost all of , h e i r attendants, only
one returning with the party, and Guan Fu himself bore over ten serious wounds.
Fortunately he happened to have some excellent medicine which he applied to
his injuries and thus saved his life.
When his wounds had healed a little, he again spoke to his commanding
officer, General Guan He. "Now that I know a little more about the ins and outs
of the Wu camp, I beg you to let me make another try! " The general admired
his bravery and sympathized with his desire, but he was afraid that this time he
would surely lose Guan Fu. He therefore took the matter up with the grand
commandant,.but the latter absolutely forbade another such foray.
After the armies of Wu had been defeated, the story of Guan Fu 's daring
exploit spread all over the empire. General Guan He recommended him to
Emperor Jing, who appointed him as a general of palace attendants, but after a
few montll.s he was accused of some violation of the law and dismissed. After
this he made his home in Chang' an, where he was known and praised by all the
gentlemen of the capital. He was later recalled to government servi ce and during
the reign of Emperor Jing reached the post of prime minister of the kingdom of
When Emperor Jing passed away and the present emperor first came to the
throne, he was afraid that the province of Huaiyang, being one of the main
crossroads of the empire and noted for its military strength, might become a
source of trouble and he therefore shifted Guan Fu to the position of governor
of Huaiyang. In the first year of the jianyuan era ( 140 BC) he summoned Guan
Fu to court to take over the post of master of carriage.
In the second year of the same era Guan Fu was one time drinking with Dou
Fu, the colonel of the guard of the Palace of Lasting Joy, when the two men got
Marquises o[Weiqi and Wuan 97
into an argument over some question of etiquette. Guan Fu, who was drunk at
the time, ended by striking Dou Fu. Dou Fu, it happened, was a close relative
of Empress Dowager Dou, and the emperor, fearful that the empress dowager
would demand Guan Fu's life for the insult, hastily transferred him to the post
of prime minister of Y an. Several years later Guan Fu was accused of some
violation of the law and removed from office, after which he returned to private
life in Chang' an.
Guan Fu was a very stubborn and outspoken man, especially when he had
had something to drink, and despised any kind of flattery. When he was in the
company of members of the aristocracy, influential statesmen, or anyone who
was socially his superior, he showed great reluctance to treat them with the
proper politeness, and indeed was actually insulting; but when it came to men
who were socially inferior, the poorer and more humble they were the greater
respect he showed them, behaving as though they were his equals. When he was
with a large group, he made a point of recommending and showing favour to
his inferiors, a trait for which he was much admired by people.
He had no taste for literature but loved feats of honour and daring and was
absolutely true to his word. All his friends were rich or influential citizens, local
bosses, or gangster leaders. His wealth amounted to almost I 0,000 cash in gold,
and every day he had from twenty or thirty to 100 men eating at his house. He
owned a number of lakes and farm lands in Yingchuan Province from which his
relatives and the retainers of the family derived great profit, and this permitted
the Guan family to run the affairs of the province in any way they pleased. The
children of Yingchuan made up a song about this which went:
While the waters of the Ying run bright
It means the Guans are still all right;
But when the waters run polluted
We' ll know they've all been executed!
When Guan Fu returned to private life in Chang' an, although he was still
very wealthy, his political influence was gone, and he soon found the ministers
and courtiers, the guests and retainers who had frequented his home in the past
gradually drifting away. When Dou Ying likewise lost his political power, he
was happy to make friends with Guan Fu and rid himself once and for all of
those acquaintances who had avidly sought his company in the old days but later
turned their backs upon him. Guan Fu in turn profited from his friendship with
Dou Ying, which allowed him to mingle with the nobles and members of the
98 Han Dynasty ll
imperial family and increase his fame. Thus the two men aided and respected
each other and their friendship was like that of father and son. They never tired
of the pleasures they shared and their only regret was that they had come to
know each other so late in life.
Once, while Guan Fu was in mourning for one of his relatives, he happened
to pay a call on the chancellor Tian Fen. In the course of the visit Tian Fen
remarked casually, "I was thinking that I would like to go with you some time
to call on Dou Ying, but of course at the moment you are in mourning."
"If you would really be so kind as to go with me to visit Dou Ying, I would
certainly not let the matter of my mourning stand in the way!" replied Guan Fu.
"If I may have your permission, I will speak to Dou Ying about it at once so that
he may make preparations to entertain you. I trust he may expect the honour of
your presence early tomorrow morning."
Tian Fen gave his consent, whereupon Guan Fu went to tell Dou Ying,
repeating to him what Tian Fen had said. Dou Ying and his wife hastily laid in
a large supply of beef and wine and spent the night sweeping and cleaning the
house, working until dawn to set up the curtains and lay out the dishes. When
daybreak came Dou Ying sent his servants to escort Tian Fen to his house, but
noon came and the chancellor had still not appeared.
"You don't think the chancellor has forgotten, do you?" Dou Ying asked
Guan Fu, who replied uneasily, "I was the one who invited him to come, in spite
of the fact that I am in mourning. I had better go and see what has happened."
Guan Fu then rode off in his carriage to fetch the chancellor in person. As
it turned out, however, Tian Fen had only been joking the day before when he
consented to the visit and had not the slightest intention of going. When Guan
Fu reached Tian Fen's house, he found that the chancellor was still in bed. He
marched straight into the room and confronted Tian Fen. "Yesterday you were
kind enough to agree to visit Dou Ying, and that gentleman and his wife have
made all the preparations! They have been waiting from dawn until now without
daring to take a bite to eat!"
Tian Fen was very startled and began to apologize, saying, "I was a little
drunk yesterday and I completely forgot about our conversation." He finally got
up and setoff in his carriage, but on the way he insisted upon driving very slowly,
which made Guan Fu angrier than ever.
And therefore ought not, according to custom, pay social calls.
Marquises ofWeiqi and Wuan 99
When the party finally got started and the drinking had reached its height,
Guan Fu stood up and performed a dance, requesting the chancellor to follow
with a dance of his own, but Tian Fen merely sat where he was and refused to
move. Guan Fu then began to make insulting remarks from his seat until Dou
Ying pulled him to his feet and hurried him out of the room, apologizing to the
chancellor for his behaviour. Tian Fen stayed and drank until evening when,
having enjoyed himself thoroughly, he took his leave.
Some time later, Tian Fen set his retainer Ji Fu to ask Dou Ying if he would
mind turning over to him some farm land south of the city which Dou Ying
owned. Dou Ying was furious when he heard the request. "Though I am only
an old man who has been abandoned by his friends and though the chancellor
is a high official, he has absolutely no right to try to seize my possessions from
me like this! I refuse to give up the land!"
When Guan Fu heard of the incident he cursed Ji Fu roundly. Ji Fu for his
part was sorry to see enmity develop between Dou Ying and Tian Fen and so
he did his best to smooth over the affair, returning to Tian Fen with excuses
which he himself had invented. "After all, Dou Ying is an old man and will die
soon. Surely you can do without the land for a while. You had better wait a bit,"
he said.
Later on, however, Tian Fen chanced to hear that Dou Ying and Guan Fu
had in fact been greatly angered at his request and had refused to hand over the
land, whereupon he too became incensed. "Once in the past Dou Ying's son
killed a man but I managed to save him from punishment. I have always treated
Dou Ying with respect and done everything he has asked me to. Why should he
begrudge me a few acres of land? As for Guan Fu, what does he have to say in
the matter? If that is the way they act, I will make no further requests for land!"
Because of this Tian Fen came to bear a deep grudge against Guan Fu and Dou
In the spring of the fourth year of yuanguang ( 131 BC) Tian Fen reported
to the emperor that Guan Fu's family in Yingchuan were behaving with
complete disregard for the law and causing great hardship to the common
people. He requested that their conduct be investigated. "It is up to you as
chancellor to settle such matters," replied the emperor. "Why ask me about it?"
Meanwhile Guan Fu happened to learn about certain secret dealings of the
chancellor involving illegal profits, bribes received from the king of Huainan,
and agreements made between the king and the chancellor. The retainers of Tian
Fen and Guan Fu undertook to mediate between the two men and eventually
100 Han Dynasty ll
persuaded them to cease their attacks and let each other alone.
In the summer of the same year Tian Fen married the daughter of Liu Jia,
the king of Yan. Empress Dowager Wang issued an edict inviting all of the
nobles and members of the imperial family to visit Tian Fen and offer their
congratulations. Dou Ying called on Guan Fu and asked him to go with him to
Tian Fen's house, but Guan Fu declined. "I have already been in trouble with
the chancellor on several occasions by trying to drink with him. And anyway at
the moment he and I are not on good terms."
"But that matter has been all settled!" said Dou Ying, and kept insisting
until Guan Fu finally agreed to join him. When the drinking had reached its
height, Tian Fen arose and proposed a toast, whereupon all the guests moved
off their mats and bowed.
This over, Dou Ying proposed a toast, but only his
old friends moved off their mats, the rest of the company simply kneeling where
they were.
Guan Fu, highly displeased at the way things were going, got up with a
container of wine and went over to pour a drink for Tian Fen. "I can' t drink a
whole cup!" Tian Fen protested, rising to his knees on the mat.
Guan Fu was angrier than ever, but he gave a forced laugh and said, "Come,
sir, surely a man of your eminence .... I insist!" But Tian Fen refused to drink.
Guan Fu went next with the wine container to the marquis of Linru. The
marquis was at the moment busy whispering in the ear of Cheng Bushi, and he
too failed to get off his mat. Guan Fu, unable to find any other outlet for his
rage, began to curse the marquis. "On ordinary days you go around speaking ill
of Cheng Bushi and telling people he isn't worth a cent, and yet today all of a
sudden when one of your elders comes and offers you a drink, you start cooing
in Cheng Bushi's ear like a love-sick maiden!"
Tian Fen called Guan Fu aside and said, "Cheng Bushi and Li Guang are
the commanders of the guards at the Eastern and Western Palaces, you know.
If you start insulting General Cheng in front of everyone, won't you be casting
aspersions on your friend General Li as well?"
"Let them cut off my head or rip open my breast right now!" said Guan Fu.
As in Japan today, the highest degree of courtesy was expressed by sliding all the way
off one's mat and kneeling on the floor. A lesser degree of courtesy was expressed by
straightening up on the mat and coming to a kneeling position.
The Eastern Palace, of which Cheng Bushi was the commander of the guard, was the
residence of the empress dowager; the Western Palace was another name for the emperor's
Marquises ofWeiqi and Wuan
"What do I care about Cheng or Li?''
With this the guests began to excuse themselves and go out to the toilet,
one by one drifting away from the party. When Dou Ying was about to leave,
he motioned to Guan Fu to go out with him, but Tian Fen exclaimed angrily, "I
was at fault for ever letting Guan Fu behave in such an arrogant manner! " and
ordered his horsemen to detain Guan Fu. Thus when Guan Fu tried to leave the
house he found he could not get out. Ji Fu jumped up and came forward to
apologize, pushing Guan Fu by the neck and trying to make him kneel down
and apologize too, but Guan Fu only grew angrier than ever and refused to offer
any apology.
Tian Fen then signalled to his horsemen to bind Guan Fu and take him to
the post station. After this he sent for his chief secretary and, explaining that he
had invited the members of the imperial family to his house in accordance with
an edict from the empress dowager, instructed him to draw up charges against
Guan Fu for insulting the guests and failing to show the proper respect, and to
have him put into chains in the Inquiry Room. He then proceeded to investigate
the earlier rumours of the misconduct of Guan Fu' s relatives and sent his officers
out in parties to arrest all the branches of the Guan family and charge them with
crimes punishable by public execution.
Dou Ying was greatly distressed by this tum of events and, laying out funds
from his own resources, sent his retainers to plead on Guan Fu 's behalf, but they
were unable to obtain his release. Tian Fen' s officers did their best to carry out
their orders but the other members of the Guan family all succeeded in escaping
into hiding. Since Guan Fu was bound and imprisoned, he had no opportunity
to report to the emperor what he knew about Tian Fen's secret dealings.
Dou Ying tried everything he could to save Guan Fu. His wife warned him,
saying, "Guan Fu has offended the chancellor and gotten into trouble with
Empress Dowager Wang and her whole family. How can you possibly save
him?" But Dou Ying replied, "I won the title of marquis by my own efforts and
if necessary I will give it up of my own accord and have no regrets. In any event
I could not think of leaving Guan Fu to die while I am still alive!"
Then, without informing his family, he slipped out of the house and sent a
letter to the emperor. He was immediately summoned to an audience at which
he explained in detail that Guan Fu' s misconduct had been due simply to an
excess of wine and did not deserve the death penalty. The emperor expressed
his agreement and even invited Dou Ying to dine in the palace. "However," he
added, "you will have to go to the Eastern Palace and explain things to the
102 Han Dynasty II
empress dowager."
Proceeding to the court of the empress dowager, Dou Ying began to point
out with zeal all of Guan Fu's good points. He explained that Guan Fu had
behaved rudely when he was in his cups, but that the chancellor was trying to
use other charges to build a false case against him. The chancellor, however,
who was also present, set out with equal zeal to accuse Guan Fu of arrogant and
unlawful conduct, claiming that he was guilty of rebellion and treason. Dou
Ying, judging that no other course would be of any avail, finally began to speak
ill of the chancellor himself.
Tian Fen replied to these charges as follows: "Today the world is blessed
with peace and harmony, and I have the special fortune to belong to a family
which is related to the imperial house by marriage. I am the sort of man who
delights in music, in dogs and horses, gardens and houses; I have a fondness for
singers, actors, and clever craftsmen. In this respect I am different from Dou
Ying and Guan Fu, who summon to their homes all the powerful bosses and
daring young men of the empire and sit day and night talking with them; whose
hearts are set on slander and whose minds are full of deceit; who, when they are
not searching the heavens for omens of change, are scanning the earth to plot
their campaigns, always with a crafty eye fixed upon the relations between the
emperor and the empress dowager, praying that the empire may be convulsed
by some strife and that they may thereby win great merit for themselves! To
what lengths men like Dou Ying and his party will go, I would not venture to
The emperor then assembled the ministers of his court and asked them
which of the two contestants, Dou Ying or Tian Fen, they believed was in the
right. The imperial secretary Han Anguo gave his opinion as follows: "As Dou
Ying has pointed out, Guan Fu's father died in the service of the dynasty, while
Guan Fu himself seized his spear and galloped into the midst of the rebel camp
ofWu, facing untold danger. He bore on his body a dozen wounds and his fame
outshone that of every other soldier in the three armies. Truly he is one of the
bravest men of the empire. Now he has committed no serious offence, but only
become involved in a petty argument over a cup of wine. There is therefore no
reason, as Dou Ying says, to drag in other charges and condemn him to
execution. In this respect Dou Ying's opinion is correct.
"On the other hand the chancellor has charged Guan Fu with associating
with evil and lawless men, oppressing the poor, amassing a fortune that runs
into millions, running his affairs in Yingchuan in an arbitrary and tyrannical
Marquises ofWeiqi and Wuan
mariner, insulting the dignity of the imperial house, and molesting men who are
flesh and blood of that family. As the proverb says, ' When the branches grow
bigger than the roots, then something must break; when the shins grow mightier
than the thighs, then something must give.' Thus the opinion of the chancellor
is also correct. It remains only for our enlightened sovereign to decide in the
The master of titles chief commandant Ji An expressed himself in agree-
ment with Dou Ying, and the prefect of the capital Zheng Dangshi also said he
thought Dou Ying was right, though in the course of the deliberations he became
frightened and did not dare to defend his assertion. (None of the other officials
ventured to offer any opinion at all.) The emperor was furious with Zheng
Dangshi and said," All the time you go around discoursing on the relative merits
and faults ofDou Ying and Tian Fen, and yet today when I summon you to court
to give your opinion, you cringe and hang your head like a pony in the shafts!
I ought to cut off your head as well!"
With this the emperor dismissed the court and, rising from his seat, retired
to the inner palace to wait on his mother, Empress Dowager Wang, while she
took her meal. The empress dowager had sent her observers to court and they
had already reported to her in detail the discussions which had taken place. She
was in a rage and refused to eat. "Even while I am alive, people go about
insulting my brother Tian Fen! After I have passed on, I have no doubt that they
will gobble him up like so much fish and meat! And y o u ~ you are no man of
stone! You are mortal the same as everyone else! Can't you see that these men
are only biding their time and pretending to be docile while you are still alive?
After your days are ended, do you think there is one of them who can be trusted?"
The emperor apologized, saying, "It is only because Tian Fen and Dou Ying
are both related to the imperial family by marriage that I brought the matter
before the court for discussion. If it were not for that, the affair could be left for
any law officer to settle."
At this time the chief of palace attendants Shi Jian drew up for the emperor
a list of the opinions presented for and against the two contestants. When the
court session was over Tian Fen left the palace and went to the gate where the
carriages were drawn up. Calling to the imperial secretary Han Anguo to join
him in his carriage, he began to berate him angrily. "You and I together are
pitted against a single, bald-headed old man, Dou Ying! Why did you have to
be so timid in expressing your opinion, like a rat trying to look both ways at
Han Dynasty II
After considering for some time, Han Anguo replied, "You ought to think
a little more highly of yourself. If Dou Ying abuses you, you should remove
your cap, undo your seals of office and, handing them over to the emperor, say,
' Because of my family connections I have graciously been permitted to serve
Your Majesty, but I am basically unfit for the position. Everything that Dou
Ying has said about me is quite correct!' In that case the emperor would be sure
to admire your humility and would refuse to accept your res ignation. As for Dou
Ying, he would be so ashamed of himself that he would retire to his home and,
biting his tongue with remorse, take hi s own life. Instead of that, when someone
abuses you, you begin abusing him back until the two of you end up quarrelling
like a pair of fishwives! This is surely not a very dignified way to behave!"
"I am sorry," said Tian Fen, acknowledging his fault . "In the heat of the
argument I became so carried away that it never occurred to me to do such a
Shortly after, the emperor ordered the imperial secretary Han Anguo to
draw up charges against Dou Ying, accusing him of making statements in Guan
Fu 's defence that were wholly false and irresponsible. Dou Ying was impeached
and imprisoned in the custody of the head of criminal affairs for the imperial
Previously, at the end of Emperor Jing's reign, Dou Ying had received a
testamentary edict from the emperor stating, "If you ever find yourself in any
difficulty, you should appeal your case directly to the throne." Now Guan Fu
had been arrested and accused of a crime punishable by death for himself and
hi s whole family, and the situation grew more serious each day. Moreover, none
of the officials dared make any further attempt to explain Dou Ying's position
to the emperor. Dou Ying therefore directed his brother's son to write a letter
on his behalf to the emperor requesting that he be granted another audience. The
Jetter was submitted to the throne, but when the master of documents searched
the files, he could find no such testamentary edict among the papers dating from
the time of Emperor Jing's decease. The only copy of the edict in existence, it
appeared, was the one preserved in Dou Ying's house, bearing the seal of Dou
Ying's private secretary. Hence Dou Ying was charged with having forged an
edict of the former emperor, a crime punishable by execution in the market
In the tenth month of the fifth year of yuanguang ( \ 30 BC) Guan Fu and
all the members of his family were condemned to execution. After some time,
news of this reached Dou Ying in jail. He was deeply embittered and, being
Marquises ofWeiqi and Wuan
afflicted with a swelling in his joints, refused to eat anything in hopes that he
would soon die. Someone assured him, however, that the emperor had no
intention of executing him, and with this he took heart and began to eat again
so that hi s illness improved. The emperor and hi s mini sters had in fact decided
not to sentence Dou Ying to death, but just then rumours began to reach the
emperor's ears that Dou Ying was speaking evilly of hi m, and so on the last day
of the month the emperor ordered the death sentence.
Dou Ying was
executed m the market place of Weicheng.
The following spring, Tian Fen, the marquis of Wuan, fell ill ; he spent all
his time crying out " I was at fault! " and beggi ng forgi veness for his crimes.
When he summoned sorcerers with the power to discern ghosts and asked them
what they saw, they reported that they could see Dou Ying and Guan Fu standing
by his bedside and preparing to kill him. Before long Tian Fen
d1ed and h1s son Tian Tian succeeded to the marquisate. In the third year of the
era yuanshuo (126 BC) Tian Tian was tried on charges of di srespect for the
throne because he came to the palace dressed in short robes, and was deprived
of his territory.
Sometime afterwards it was discovered that Liu An, the king of Huainan,
had plotting a revolt. Liu An and his conspirators were brought to justice,
and m the course of the investigations it was found that once in the past, when
the king paid a visit to court, Tian Fen, then grand commandant, had driven out
as far as Bashang to greet him. ' 'The emperor has not yet designated an heir
apparent," Tian Fen was reported to have said, "while Your Highness is the most
worthy among the kings, being a grandson of the founder of the dynasty, Gaozu.
If there should be a funeral in the imperial palace, I cannot think of anyone but
you would be suitable to succeed to the throne! " The king of Huainan, it
was sa1d, was greatly pleased with these words and presented Tian Fen with
generous gifts of money and goods.
. .From the time of the Dou Ying affair the emperor no longer put any trust
m T1an Fen, but merely tolerated him because he was a brother of the empress
he heard these reports of money presented to Tian Fen by the
kmg of Huaman, he declared, ' 'If Tian Fen were still around today I would have
him and his whole family executed! "
Smce spring is the time when life returns to the earth, it was considered unlucky to
perform executions m the spring. and the beginning of spring (the first month) was often
accompamed by an amnesty. Tian Fen therefore had to work quickly to spread his rumours in
order to d1spose of h1s enemy before lhe end of the 1welfth month.
Han Dynasty II
The Grand Historian remarks: Dou Ying and Tian Fen both commanded
great respect because they belonged to families related to the throne by marriage.
Guan Fu became famous as a result of a daring exploit made on the spur of the
moment; Dou Ying won promotion in the Wu and Chu rebellion; but Tian Fen's
position of honour was more a matter of time and fortunate circumstance.
Dou Ying, however, did not know how to change with the times, and Guan
Fu, though a man of no learning, refused to be humble. Both men tried to help
each other, but they succeeded only in bringing disaster upon themselves.
Tian Fen enjoyed great honour and loved the feel of power, but because of
the resentment occasioned by a single cup of wine, he set about to destroy two
men. How pitiful! Those who attempt to vent their anger on innocent persons
can never hope to live for long. Those who fail to win the commendation of the
massoflessermen will end by suffering their slanders. Alas, alas! No misfortune
ever comes without due cause!
I.e., that Emperor Jing died young and Tian Fen' s sister, Empress Dowager Wang, was
abk to exercise great power.
His wisdom was such that he could respond to the changes of the present
age; his kindness enabled him to win over others. Thus I made "The
Biography of Han Changru".
The imperial secretary Han An guo was born in Cheng' an in Liang; later he
moved to Suiyang, the capital of Liang. In his youth he studied the theories of
the Legalist philosopher Han Fei Zi and those of the other philosophical schools
with Master Tian of Zou and served as a palace counsellor to King Xiao of
When the states ofWu and Chu began their rebellion, King Xiao dispatched
Han Anguo and Zhang Yu as generals to block the advance of the Wu army on
the eastern border. Zhang Yu fell upon the rebels outright, while Han Anguo
proceeded with caution and foresight, and between them they kept the army of
Wu from advancing beyond Liang. After the rebellion was put down, both Han
Anguo and Zhang Yu became well known for the part they had played in its
King Xiao of Liang was a younger brother of Emperor Jing. Their mother,
Empress Dowager Dou, loved him dearly and persuaded Emperor Jing to allow
him to appoint his own prime minister and officials of the 2,000 picul class,
though this was contrary to Han custom. In his travels, his hunting expeditions,
and his whole way of life, King Xiao imitated the Son of Heaven, a fact which
secretly displeased Emperor Jing when he learned of it. The empress dowager,
well aware of the emperor's displeasure, vented her annoyance on the envoys
from Liang, refusing to receive them in audience and presenting them with a
list of the king's misdemeanours.
Han Anguo, who came to court as an envoy from Liang, visited Emperor
Changru is the polite name of Han An guo; Sima Qian uses it in the title of the biography
but in the biography itself refers to him throughout by his familiar name, Han Anguo.
Han Dynasty II
Jing's sister, the Elder Princess, and, said, "No is a more filial son
and a more loyal subject than the kmg of Liang. Why IS 1t that the empress
dowager will not recognize this? Some time ago, when Wu, Chu, Qi , Zhao, and
the others of the Seven Kingdoms rebelled, all the lands east of the Pass joined
together in alliance and began their march westward to the capital. Only Liang
remained faithful and shouldered the burden of resistance. The king of Liang,
thinking of the empress dowager and the emperor far away in the capital and
bserving the lawlessness of the other feudal lords, wept floods of tears with
:ach word he spoke. Kneeling and bidding farewell to me and his other six
generals, he sent us with a force of men to attack and drive back the armies
Wu and Chu. Therefore the rebels did not dare advance westward and were m
the end defeated and wiped out. This was all due to the efforts of the king of
"Now, because of some petty scruple, some fine point of behaviour, the
ress dowager has become angry with the king of Liang. One must remem-
emp . .
ber however, that the king's father was an emperor, and h1s older brother ts
em;,eror today; he has been accustomed from youth to the pomp of imperial life.
Therefore be bas his attendants cry 'Clear the way!' and 'Attention!' when he
leaves or returns to his palace, in the manner of an emperor. As for the imperial
fla s which he flies from his carriage, they were all presented to him by the
If he uses these when he rides about his kingdom, making a show
before the country towns and putting on a boastful appearance in the eyes of the
other feudal lords, it is because he wishes the whole empire to know that he
enjoys the love of the empress dowager and the emperor. And yet now when
the Liang envoys come to court they are summarily confronted with a list of the
king's misdemeanours. The king is deeply afraid. Day and night he weeps,
thinking fondly of his loved ones in the capital but not knowing what to do!
How can the empress dowager be so cold-hearted toward one who is such a filial
son and loyal subject?"
The Elder Princess reported to the empress dowager everything that Han
Anguo had said. The empress dowager was pleased and said, "For the king's
sake you had better tell the emperor about this." The Elder Princess repeated
her story to the emperor, whose annoyance was somewhat appeased. When he
went to pay his respects to his mother, the empress dowager, he removed his
hat and apologized, saying, "I am afraid that, because my brother and I had some
difference of opinion, we have caused our mother unnecessary anxiety!"
He then received all the Liang envoys in audience and rewarded them with
, .
. ,
HanChangru 109
generous gifts. From this time on the king of Liang enjoyed greater favour and
intimacy with the emperor. The empress dowager and the Elder Princess also
presented gifts to Han Anguo amounting to over 1,000 catties of gold. Because
of this incident Han Anguo grew more famous than ever and came to be on close
terms with the imperial family.
Sometime later Han Anguo was tried for an offence and condemned to
punishment. Tian Sometbing-or-other,
the prison official of Meng where Han
An guo was held for questioning, took the occasion to humiliate him.
"Do you think," said Han Anguo, referring to his present state of disgrace,
"that because the fire has for the moment died out in these ashes, it will never
come to life again?"
"If it does," replied Tian, "I will piss on it!"
Shortly afterwards the post of internal secretary of Liang fell vacant and an
envoy was sent from the central government to appoint Han Anguo to the
position. In one stroke he was raised from the status of a convict to that of a
2,000 picul official. The prison official Tian fled into hiding, but Han Anguo
sent word to him: "If you do not return to your post, I will all the
members of your family!" Tian fmally appeared and, with his arms bared,
apologized for his former behaviour. "Now is the time to piss on me! " said Han
Anguo with a laugh. "I certainly can't be bothered punishing the likes of you!"
In the end he treated Tian very well.
When the post of internal secretary fell vacant, King Xiao had just obtained
the services of a rhetorician from Qi named Gongsun Gui and, finding him to
his liking, was thinking of asking the emperor for permission to appoint this
man as internal secretary. The empress dowager, hearing of his plans, ordered
the king to appoint Han Anguo to the post. Gong sun Gui and another rhetorician
named Yang Sheng bad been urging the king to try to get himself designated as
heir apparent to his brother, Emperor Jing, and to increase his lands, but they
were afraid that the high officials of the Han court would never listen to such
proposals. They therefore sent men in secret to assassinate the officials of the
Han court who were opposing these measures, and succeeded in murdering
Yuan Ang, the former prime ministerofWu. Emperor Jing, learning in time that
Gongsun Gui and Yang Sheng were the authors of the assassination plot,
dispatched envoys with orders to arrest the two men without fail. A group of ten
Sima Qian has been unable to ascertain the personal name of the official and has
substituted the wordjia, or "A".
Han Dynasty II
Han officials arrived at the court of Liang and, enlisting the services of everyone
from the prime minister on down, began a search for the culprits throughout the
kingdom, but over a month passed and they had still not succeeded in appre-
hending them.
Han Anguo, learning that King Xiao was concealing them in his own
residence, went to the king and, with tears in his eyes, said, "The shame of the
lord, it is said, must be paid for by the death of his ministers. It is because Your
Highness has no worthy ministers that affairs have reached this wretched state.
Now, since Gongsun Gui and Yang Sheng have not been arrested, I beg to be
relieved of my post and sentenced to death!"
"But why go to this extreme?'.' the king protested.
Han An guo, the tears coursing down his face, replied, "Your Highness is
on intimate terms with the emperor. But, though you are his brother, are you as
close to him as Emperor Gaozu was to his father, the Grand Supreme Emperor,
or as the king of Linjiang was to the present emperor?"
"Surely not," said the king.
"These men were linked by the closest bond possible- that of father and
son. And yet Emperor Gaozu boasted that 'It was l who won the empire with
my three-foot sword' and consequently his father, the Grand Supreme Emperor,
never took any part in the governing of the empire but lived in retirement in
Yueyang. Similarly the king ofLinjiang, though the eldest son of the emperor
and the rightful heir, was deprived of the title of heir apparent because of one
little slip in speech committed by his mother, Lady Li.
Later he was accused
of having torn down the wall of one of the ancestral temples, and finally he
committed suicide in the office of the palace military commander. Why did
Emperor Gaozu and the present emperor treat their closest kin in this way?
Because in governing the empire one must never let private feelings interfere
with the public welfare! There is a popular saying, 'Though he's your father, he
may still tum out to be a tiger; though he's your older brother, he may still tum
Liu Rang, the eldes: :;on of Emperor Jing, was originally designated as heir apparent
but later removed from that position and appointed king of Linjiang. See in Volume I his
biography, in "Hereditary Houses of the Five Families", and that of his mother, Lady Li, in
"Hereditary Houses of the Families Related to the Emperors by Marriage".
In the biography of Lady Li we are told that, although Emperor Jing asked her to look
after his sons in the event of his death, she "had refused to acknowledge his request, and when
she did speak her words were lacking in humility". This is probably the "slip in speech" to
which Han Anguo is referring.
out to be a wolf! '
"Now, although you are ranked among the feudal lords, you have been
beguiled by the fatuous advice of evil ministers into violating the prohibitions
of the emperor and perverting the enlightened laws of the land. For the sake of
the empress dowager, the Son of Heaven has forborne to call you to account
before the Jaw. The empress dowager herself weeps day and night, praying that
you will mend your ways of your own accord, and yet you have failed to wake
to your error. But someday if the funeral carriages were to bear the empress
dowager away to her final rest, whom would you have left to tum to?''
Before he had finished speaking, the tears began to stream down King
Xiao's face and, apologizing to Han Anguo, he said, "I will expel Gongsun Gui
and Yang Sheng from their hiding place!" Gongsun Gui and Yang Sheng
committed suicide, and the Han envoys returned to the capital to report to the
emperor. Thus the settlement of the affair was due solely to the efforts of Han
Anguo. From this time on Emperor Jing and Empress Dowager Dou held Han
An guo in even higher esteem.
After King Xiao died and his son, Liu Mai, posthumously known as King
Gong, came to the throne, Han An guo was tried for some offence and removed
from his post, after which he lived at home in retirement.
During theerajianyuan (140-135 BC) Tian Fen, the marquis ofWuan, was
made grand commandant of the Han court and enjoyed great favour and honour
in the exercise of his duties. Han Anguo presented him with a gift of 500 catties
of gold, in exchange for which Tian Fen spoke on his behalf to his half-sister,
Empress Dowager Wang, the mother of the present emperor. The emperor had
also heard of Han Anguo's reputation for wisdom and summoned him to be
chief commandant of Beidi. Shortly afterwards he was transferred to the post
of minister of agriculture. When the state of Minyue attacked its neighbour,
Southern Yue, Han An guo and the grand messenger Wang H ui were dispatched
with troops to put down the trouble. Before they had reached Minyue, however,
the people of that state murdered their king and surrendered, whereupon the Han
forces withdrew.
ln the sixth year of }ian yuan (135 BC) Tian Fen was made chancellor and
Han Anguo was made imperial secretary. At this time the Xiongnu had come
with offers of a peace alliance and the emperor had referred the question to his
ministers for debate. The grand messenger Wang Hui, a native ofYan who had
several times served as an official on the northern border and was familiar with
the ways of the Xiongnu, stated his opinion: "Although the Han concludes peace
Han Dynasty II
treaties with the Xiongnu, it is never more than a couple of years before they
violate the agreement. It would be better to refuse their offer and send troops to
attack them!"
Han Anguo, however, replied, "No profit comes to an army that has to fight
1,000 miles from home. The Xiongnu move on the feet of swift war horses, and
in their breasts beat the hearts of beasts. They shift from place to place as fast
as a flock of birds, so that it is extremely difficult to comer them and bring them
under control. Though we were to win possession of their land, it would be no
great addition to the empire, and though we ruled their hosts of warriors, they
would do little to strengthen our power. From the most ancient times the
Xiongnu have never been regarded as a part of humanity. If we march thousands
of miles away and try to fight with them, our men and horses will be worn out,
and then the wretches will muster all their strength and fall upon us. An arrow
from the most powerful crossbow, when it has reached the end of its flight, will
not pierce the sheerest Lu gauze; the strongest wind, when its force is spent, will
not lift a goose feather - not because both are not strong at the outset, but
because their force in time is dispersed. It would not be expedient to attack the
Xiongnu. Better to make peace with them!"
Many of the other ministers agreed with Han Anguo' s opinion, and the
emperor therefore consented to the peace alliance.
The following year, the first year of the era guangyuan (134 BC) Nie
Wengyi, an influential man from the city of Mayi in Yanmen Province, con-
veyed word to the emperor via the grand messenger Wang Hui, saying, "Now
that peaceful relations have been established with the Xiongnu and they are on
good terms with us here on the border, it would be an ideal opportunity to entice
them with prospects of gain." The emperor therefore ordered Nie Wengyi to
cross the border in secret and, in the guise of a refugee, to enter the territory of
the Xiongnu. Once there, he had an interview with the Shanyu, the Xiongnu
leader, and said, "If you wish, I can murder the governor ofMayi and his officials
and tum the city over to you so you can seize all the wealth there!"
The Shanyu, trusting Nie Wengyi, was attracted by his offer and agreed to
cooperate. Nie Wengyi returned to Mayi and, putting to death some condemned
criminals instead, hung their heads on the city wall as a sign to the Shanyu's
envoys that he had carried out his part of the agreement, telling them at the same
time, "The high officials ofMayi have all been killed. Now is the time to attack
with all speed!" The Shanyu then broke through the border defences and, with
a force of over 100,000 cavalry, invaded the empire through the barrier at
HanChangru 113
At this time the Han had a force of over 300,000 infantry, cavalry, and
bowmen concealed in the valley around Mayi, lying in wait for the Xiongnu.
The colonel of the guard Li Guang commanded the cavalry; the master of
carriage Gongsun He commanded the light carriages; the grand messenger
Wang Hui was the garrison commander; the palace counsellor Li Xi was
commander of the bowmen; and the imperial secretary Han Anguo was in
command of the supporting army. All the other leaders were under Han An guo's
command. An agreement was made that as soon as the Shanyu had entered the
city ofMayi, the Han troops would pour out of hiding to attack him. Wang Hui,
Li Xi, and Li Guang were to lead a separate force across from the direction of
Dai and concentrate on attacking the baggage trains of the enemy.
As already stated, the Shanyu broke through the Great Wall at the Wuzhou
barrier and began to march toward Mayi, plundering as he went along. He was
still some 100 /i from the city when, noticing that there were large numbers of
domestic animals in the fields but no people anywhere insight, he began to grow
suspicious. He attacked a beacon warning station and captured one of the
defence officials of Wuzhou. He was about to run the official through with his
sword, but instead began to question him, whereupon the official told him,
"There are 20,000 or 30,000 Han troops lying in ambush at Mayi!"
The Shanyu, turning to those around him, said, "It appears that we have
been tricked by the Han!" and began to lead his forces back toward the border.
After he got beyond the pass, he said, "Heaven was on my side when I captured
this defence official!" and he awarded the man the title of "Heavenly King".
When word came from the border that the Shanyu had turned around and
was leading his troops back out of the country, the Han forces set out in pursuit.
They followed him as far as the border but, realizing that they could not overtake
him, abandoned the pursuit. Meanwhile Wang Hui and the others of his group
of 30,000, hearing that the Shanyu had not made contact with the Han armies,
and considering that if they tried to attack the baggage trains they would be
pitted against the finest soldiers of the Shanyu and would surely suffer defeat,
likewise abandoned any idea of attack. Thus none of the generals achieved any
The emperor was furious at Wang Hui for failing to cross the border to
attack the Shanyu's baggage train, but instead leading his troops back to the
capital in defiance of orders. Defending himself, Wang Hui said, "If the
wretches had gotten as far as Mayi and the other Han troops had made contact
114 Han Dynasty II
with the Shanyu according to the agreement, then I could have attacked his
baggage train with good prospects of success. But when the Shanyu discovered
the plot and turned back before reaching the city, I knew that my 30,000 men
could never stand up to his hordes and that we would win nothing but disgrace.
I was perfectly aware, of course, that I would be executed as soon as I returned
to the capital, but I wished to save the lives of those 30,000 men of Your
Wang Hui was handed over to the commandant of justice, who recom-
mended that he be executed for cowardly shirking of duty. Wang Hui secretly
sent 1 ,000 pieces of gold to the chancellor Tian Fen to speak on his behalf, but
Tian Fen did not dare to say anything directly to the emperor. Instead he spoke
to Empress Dowager Wang: "Wang Hui was the one who engineered the plot
to attack the Shanyu at Mayi. Now if he is to be executed for its failure, this is
simply doing the Xiongnu the favour of satisfying their anger! "
When the emperor came to pay his morning visit to his mother, Empress
Dowager Wang, she repeated to him what Tian Fen had said, but the emperor
replied, "Wang Hui was indeed the one who engineered the Mayi plot. It was
because of him that I called out several hundred thousand troops and disposed
them as he recommended. Even if it was impossible to capture the Shanyu, Wang
Hui and his group of men could at least have attacked his baggage train and won
some sort of gain to repay the soldiers for all their labour. Now if I fail to execute
him, I will have no way to apologize to the empire for this failure!"
When Wang Hui heard what the emperor had said, he committed suicide.
Han An guo was the sort of man who is full of grand schemes. He was wise
enough to know how to get along in the world, but at the same time his actions
all sprang from a deep sense of loyalty. Although he himself was greedy in
matters of money, those whom he recommended for office were all men of
scrupulous integrity and worthier than himself. He worked for the promotion of
such men as Hu Sui, Zang Gu, and Zhi Tuo from his own state of Liang, all of
whom became famous throughout the empire. Everyone admired him for his
efforts to promote others and the emperor himself considered him an invaluable
asset to the nation.
Han Anguo had been imperial secretary for some four years when the
chancellor Tian Fen died. Han Anguo temporarily took over the duties of
chancellor but one day, when he was leading the imperial procession, he fell
from his carriage and injured his foot. The emperor had begun discussions on a
replacement for the post of chancellor and was anxious to appoint Han An guo,
HanChangru 115
but when he sent someone to see how Han Anguo was, the man reported that
he was still limping badly as a result of his fall. The emperortherefore appointed
XueZe, the marquis ofPingji, as chancellor instead ofHan Anguo, who declined
the post on grounds of his illness.
After a few months Han Anguo's limp went away and the emperor made
him palace military commander; a year or so later he was transferred to the post
of colonel of the guard. At this time the carriage and cavalry general Wei Qing
attacked the Xiongnu, riding north from Shanggu Province and defeating the
barbarians at Longcheng. General Li Guang, who took part in the expedition,
was captured by the Xiongnu but managed to escape, while another of the
generals, Gong sun Ao, lost a large number of his men. Both were condemned
to die but were allowed to buy off the death sentence and become commoners
The following year the Xiongnu crossed the border in great numbers and
murdered the governor of Liaoxi. From Liaoxi they advanced to Yanmen,
killing and carrying off several thousand men. The carriage and cavalry general
Wei Qing marched out of Yanmen to attack them, leaving the colonel of the
guard Han Anguo in command of a force of bowmen to garrison Yuyang. One
of the Xiongnu whom Han Anguo had taken prisoner informed him that the
Xiongnu hordes had by this time moved on far away from the area, and Han
An guo therefore sent a letter to the throne requesting that, since it was time for
the work in the fields to begin, he be allowed to disband the army at the garrison
for a while. Permission was granted, but the garrison army had not been
disbanded for more than a month or so when the Xi on gnu invaded Shanggu and
Yuyang in great numbers. Han Anguo had no more than 700 some men in the
fort where he was stationed and, though they marched out and engaged the
enemy, they could win no advantage and were forced to retire into the fort again.
The Xiongnu meanwhile plundered the region, seizing over I ,000 prisoners and
all the domestic animals before they left the area.
When word of this reached the emperor he was furious and sent a messenger
to reprimand Han Anguo. He then transferred Han Anguo far to the east, putting
him in charge of the garrison at Youbeiping, because one of the Xiongnu
prisoners had said that the Xiongnu were preparing to invade in the east.
Han Anguo had been imperial secretary early in his career and had com-
manded the armies at Mayi, but later he incurred the displeasure of the emperor
and was demoted to lesser posts, while the emperor's new favourite, the young
general Wei Qing, continued to pile up achievements and rise in importance.
Han Dynasty II
Han Anguo suffered this increasing estrangement from the emperor in gloomy
silence. After he was made garrison commander and was tricked by the Xiongnu
into losing so many of his men, he was filled with the deepest humiliation and
requested permission to resign his post and return home. Instead of this,
however, he was transferred further east to command another garrison, where
he continued to grow more depressed and melancholy than ever. A few months
after his transfer, he fell ill and spat blood and died. His death occurred during
the second year of the era yuanshuo ( 127 BC).
The Grand Historian remarks: I worked on the establishment of the new
calendar with Hu Sui, whom Han Anguo had recommended to office, and had
an opportunity to observe Han Anguo's strict sense of duty and Hu Sui' s deep
and abiding loyalty. It is no wonder people these days say that Liang is rich in
worthy men. Hu Sui advanced as nigh as the post of steward in the household
of the empress dowager and the heir apparent. The emperor had great faith in
him and was planning to make him chancellor when death ended his career. Had
he lived, he would, with his integrity and fine conduct, have been one of the
most conscientious and diligent men alive today.
Valorous in the face of the enemy, good to his men, he gave no petty or
vexatious orders, and for this reason his subordinates looked up to him with
admiration. Thus I made "The Biography of General Li Guang".
General Li Guang was a native of Chengji in Longxi Province. Among his
ancestors was Li Xin, a general of the state of Qin, who pursued and captured
Dan, the crown prince of Yan.
The family originally lived in Huaili but later
moved to Chengji. The art of archery had been handed down in the family for
In the fourteenth year of Emperor Wen's reign (166 BC) the Xiongnu
entered the Xiao Pass in great numbers. Li Guang, as the son of a distinguished
family, was allowed to join the army in the attack on the barbarians. He proved
himself a skilful horseman and archer, killing and capturing a number of the
enemy, and was rewarded with the position of palace attendant at the Han court.
His cousin Li Cai was also made a palace attendant. Both men served as mounted
guards to the emperor and received a stipend of 800 piculs of grain. Li Guang
always accompanied Emperor Wen on his hunting expeditions. The emperor,
observing how he charged up to the animal pits, broke through the palisades,
and struck down the most ferocious beasts, remarked, "What a pity you were
not born at a better time! Had you lived in the age of Emperor Gaozu, you would
have had no trouble in winning a marquisate of at least 10,000 households!"
When Emperor Jing came to the throne, Li Guang was made chief com-
mandant of Longxi; later he was transferred to the post of general of palace
horsemen. At the time of the revolt of Wu and Chu, he served as a cavalry
commander under the grand commandant Zhou Y afu, joining in the attack on
the armies of Wu and Chu, capturing the enemy pennants, and distinguishing
He had sent a man to the Qin court in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the king
who later became the First Emperor of the Qin. See Records of the Grand Historian, Qin
118 Han Dynasty ll
himself at the battle of Changyi. But because he had accepted the seals of a
general from the king of Liang without authorization from the Han government,
he was not rewarded for his achievements when he returned to the capital.
Following this he was transferred to the post of governor of Shanggu
Province, where he engaged in almost daily skirmishes with the Xiongnu. The
director of dependent states Gongsun Kunye went to the emperor and, with tears
in his eyes, said, "There is no one in the empire to match Li Guang for skill and
spirit and yet, trusting to his own ability, he repeatedly engages the enemy in
battle. I am afraid one day we will lose him!" The emperor therefore transferred
him to the post of governor of Shang Province.
At this time the Xiongnu invaded Shang Province in great force. Emperor
Jing sent one of his trusted eunuchs to join Li Guang, ordering him to train the
troops and lead them in an attack on the Xiongnu. The eunuch, leading a group
of twenty or thirty horsemen, was casually riding about the countryside one day
when he caught sight of three Xiongnu riders and engaged them in a fight. The
three Xiongnu, however, began circling the party and shooting as they went
until they had wounded the eunuch and were near to killing all of his horsemen.
The eunuch bare! y managed to flee back to the place where Li Guang was. "They
must be out hunting eagles!" said Li Guang, and galloped off with 100 horsemen
in pursuit of the three Xiongnu. The Xiongnu, having lost their horses, fled on
foot. After they had journeyed twenty or thirty li, Li Guang caught up with them
and, ordering his horsemen to fan out to the left and right of them, began to shoot
at them. He killed two with his arrows and took the third one alive. As he had
guessed, they were eagle hunters.
Li Guang had bound his prisoner and remounted his horse, when he spied
several thousand Xiongnu horsemen in the distance. The Xiongnu, catching
sight of Li Guang and his men, supposed that they were a decoy sent out from
the main body of the Han forces to lure them into combat. They made for a
nearby hill in alarm and drew up their ranks on its crest.
Li Guang 's horsemen were thoroughly terrified and begged him to flee back
to camp as quickly as possible, but he replied, "We are twenty or thirty li away
from the main army. With only I 00 of us, if we were to try to make a dash for
it, the Xiongnu would be after us in no time and would shoot down every one
The thirty-one characters which follow at this point in the text have been shifted in the
translation to a point farther along in the narrative, following the reading in the parallel passage
in Han shu 54.
General Li Guang 119
of us. But it we stay where we are, they are bound to think we are a decoy from
the main army and will not dare to attack!"
Instead of retreating, therefore, Li Guang gave the order to his men to
advance. When they had reached a point some two li from the Xiongnu ranks,
he told his men, "Dismount and undo your saddles!"
"But there are too many of them and they are almost on top of us!" his men
protested. "What will we do if they attack?"
"They expect us to run away," said Li Guang. "But now if we all undo our
saddles and show them we have no intention of fleeing, they will be more
convinced than ever that there is something afoot."
The Xiongnu in fact did not venture to attack, but sent out one of their
leaders on a white horse to reconnoitre. Li Guang mounted again and, with ten
or so of his horsemen, galloped after the barbarian leader and shot him down.
Then he returned to his group and, undoing his saddle, ordered his men to tum
loose their horses and lie down on the ground. By this time night was falling
and the Xiongnu, thoroughly suspicious of what they had seen, still had not
ventured to attack. They concluded that the Han leaders must have concealed
soldiers in the area and be planning to fall upon them in the dark, and so during
the night the Xiongnu chiefs and their men all withdrew. When dawn came Li
Guang finally managed to return with his group to the main army, which, having
no idea where he had gone, had been unable to follow him.
After this Li Guang was assigned to the governorship of several other
border provinces in succession, returning finally to Shang Province. In the
course of these moves he served as governor of Longxi, Beidi, Yanmen, Dai,
and Yunzhong Provinces and in each won fame for his fighting.
After some time, Emperor Jing passed away and the present emperor came
to the throne. The emperor's advisers informed him of Li Guang's fame as a
general, and he made Li Guang the colonel of the guard of the Eternal Palace,
while allowing him to retain the governorship of Shang Province.
At this time Cheng B ushi was the colonel of the guard of the Palace of
Lasting Joy. Cheng Bushi had been a governor in the border provinces and a
garrison general at the same time as Li Guang. When Li Guang went out on
expeditions to attack the Xiongnu, he never bothered to form his men into
battalions and companies. He would make camp wherever he found water and
grass, leaving his men to set up their quarters in any way they thought conve-
nient. He never had sentries circling the camp at night and beating on cooking
pots, as was the custom, and in his headquarters he kept records and other
Han Dynasty II
clerical work down to a minimum. He always sent out scouts some distance
around the camp, however, and he had never met with any particular mishap.
Cheng Bushi, on the other hand, always kept his men in strict battalion and
company formation. The sentries banged on the cooking pots, his officers
worked over their records and reports until dawn, and no one in his army got
any rest. He likewise had never had any mishaps. Cheng Bushi once expressed
the opinion," Although Li Guang runs his army in a very simple fashion, if the
enemy should ever swoop down on him suddenly he would have no way to hold
them off. His men enjoy plenty of idleness and pleasure, and for that reason they
are all eager to fight to the death for him. Life in my army may be a good deal
more irksome, but at least l know that the enemy will never catch me napping!"
Li Guang and Cheng Bushi were both famous generals at this time, but the
Xiongnu were more afraid ofLi Guang's strategies, while the Han soldiers for
the most part preferred to serve under him and disliked being under Cheng
B ~ s _ h i 's command. Cheng Bushi advanced to the position of palace counsellor
under Emperor Jing because of the outspoken advice he gave the emperor on
several occasions. He was a man of great integrity and very conscientious in
matters of form and law.
Sometime later, the Han leaders attempted to entice the Shanyu into
entering the city of Mayi, concealing a large force of men in the valley around
the city to ambush the Xiongnu. At this time Li Guang was appointed as cavalry
general under the command of Han Anguo, the leader of the supporting army.
As it happened, however, the Shanyu discovered the plot and escaped in time,
so that neither Li Guang nor any of the other generals connected with the plot
achieved any merit.
Four years later ( 129 BC) Li Guang, because of his services as colonel of
the guard, was made a general and sent north from Yanmen to attack the
Xiongnu. But the Xiongnu force he was pitted against turned out to be too
numerous and succeeded in defeating Li Guang's army and capturing him alive.
The Shanyu had for a long time heard ofLi Guang's excellence as a fighter
and had given orders, "If you get hold of Li Guang, take him alive and bring
him to me!" As it turned out, the barbarian horsemen did manage to capture Li
Guang and, since he was badly wounded, they strung a litter between two horses
and, laying him on it, proceeded on their way about ten li. Li Guang pretended
to be dead but managed to peer around him and noticed that close by this side
was a young Xiongnu boy mounted on a fine horse. Suddenly he leaped out of
the litter and onto the boy's horse, seizing his bow and pushing him off the horse.
General Li Guang 121
Then, whipping the horse to full gallop, he dashed off to the south. After
travelling twenty or thirty li he succeeded in catching up with what was left of
his army and led the men back across the border into Han territory. While he
was making his escape, several hundred horsemen from the party that had
captured him came in pursuit, but he turned and shot at them wi th the bow he
had snatched from the boy, killing his pursuers, and was thus able to escape.
When he got back to the capital, he was turned over to the law officials,
who recommended that he be executed for losing so many of his men and being
captured alive. He was allowed to ransom his life and was reduced to the status
of commoner.
Following this, Li Guang lived in retirement for several years, spending his
time hunting. His home was in Lantian, among the Southern Mountains,
adjoining the estate of Guan Qiang, the grandson of Guan Ying, the former
marquis of Yingyin.
One evening Li Guang, having spent the afternoon drinking with some
people out in the fields, was on his way back home, accompanied by a rider
attendant, when he passed the watch station at Baling. The watchman, who was
drunk at the time, yelled at Li Guang to halt.
"This is the former General Li," said Li Guang's man.
"Even present generals are not allowed to go wandering around at night,
much less former ones!" the watchman retorted, and made Li Guang halt and
spend the night in the watch station.
Shortly after this, the Xiongnu invaded Liaoxi, murdered its governor, and
defeated General Han Anguo. Han Anguo was transferred to Youbeiping, where
he died, and the emperor forthwith summoned Li Guang to be the new governor
of Youbeiping. When he accepted the post, Li Guang asked that the watchman
of Baling be ordered to accompany him, and as soon as the man reported for
duty Li Guang had him executed.
After Li Guang took over in Youbeiping, the Xiongnu, who were familiar
with his reputation and called him "The Flying General", stayed away from the
region for several years and did not dare to invade Youbeiping.
Li Guang was out hunting one time when he spied a rock in the grass which
he mistook for a tiger. He shot an arrow at the rock and hit it with such force
The parallel text in Han shu 54 records that Li Guang wrote a letter to the emperor
apologizing for this act of personal vengeance, but the emperor replied that he expected his
generals to be merciless so that they would inspire awe in their men and terrify the enemy.
122 Han Dynasty II
that the tip of the arrow embedded itself in the rock. Later, when he discovered
that it was a rock, he tried shooting at it again, but he was unable to pierce it a
second time.
Whatever province Li Guang had been in in the past, whenever he heard
that there was a tiger in the vicinity he always went out to shoot it in person.
When he got to Youbeiping he likewise went out one time to hunt a tiger. The
beast sprang at him and wounded him, but he finally managed to shoot it dead.
Li Guang was completely free of avarice. Whenever he received a reward
of some kind, he at once divided it among those in his command, and he was
content to eat and drink the same things as his men. For over forty years he
received a salary of 2,000 piculs, but when he died he left no fortune behind.
He never discussed matters of family wealth. He was a tall man with long,
ape-like arms. His skill at archery seems to have oeen an inborn talent, for none
of his descendants or others who studied under him were ever able to equal his
prowess. He was a very clumsy speaker and never had much to say. When he
was with others he would draw diagrams on the ground to explain his military
tactics or set up targets of various widths and shoot at them with his friends, the
loser being forced to drink. In fact, archery remained to the end of his life his
chief source of amusement.
When he was leading his troops through a barren region and they came
upon some water, he would not got near it until all his men had fmished drinking.
Similarly he would not eat until every one of his men had been fed. He was very
lenient with his men and did nothing to vex them, so that they all loved him and
were happy to serve under him. Even when the enemy was attacking, it was his
custom never to discharge his arrows unless his opponent was within twenty or
thirty paces and he believed he could score a hit. When he did discharge an
arrow, however, the bowstring had no sooner sounded than his victim would
fall to the ground. Because of this peculiar habit he often found himself in
considerable difficulty when he was leading his troops against an enemy, and
this is also the reason, it is said, that he was occasionally wounded when he went
out hunting wild beasts.
Sometime after Li Guang was made governor of Youbeiping, Shi Jian died,
and Li Guang was summoned to take his place as chief of palace attendants.
In the sixth year of yuanshuo ( 123 BC) Li Guang was again made a general
and sent with the general in chief Wei Qing to proceed north from Dingxiang
and attack the Xiongnu. Most of the other generals who took part in the
expedition killed or captured a sufficient number of the enemy to be rewarded
General Li Guang 123
for their achievements by being made marquises, but Li Guang's army won no
Three years later Li Guang, as chief of palace attendants, was sent to lead
a force of 4,000 cavalry north from Youbeiping. Zhang Qian, the Bowang
marquis, leading 10,000 cavalry, rode out with Li Guang but took a somewhat
different route. When Li Guang had advanced several hundred /i into enemy
territory, the Xiongnu leader known as the Wise King of the Left appeared with
40,000 cavalry and surrounded Li Guang's army. His men were all terrified, but
Li Guang ordered his son Li Gan to gallop out to meet the enemy. Li Gan,
accompanied by only twenty or thirty riders, dashed straight through the
Xiongnu horsemen, scattering them to left and right, and then returned to his
father's side, saying, "These barbarians are easy enough to deal with!" After
this Li Guang's men were somewhat reassured.
Li Guang ordered his men to draw up in a circle with their ranks facing
outward. The enemy charged furiously down on them and the arrows fell like
rain. Over half the Han soldiers were killed, and their arrows were almost gone.
Li Guang then ordered the men to load their bows and hold them in readiness,
but not to discharge them, while he himself, with his huge yellow crossbow,
shot at the sub-commander of the enemy force and killed several of the
barbarians. After this the enemy began to fall back a little.
By this time night had begun to fall. Every one of Li Guang's officers and
men had turned white with fear, but Li Guang, as calm and confident as though
nothing had happened, worked to get his ranks into better formation. After this
the men knew that they could never match his bravery.
The following day Li Guang once more fought off the enemy, and in the
meantime Zhang Qian at last arrived with his army. The Xiongnu forces
withdrew and the Han armies likewise retreated, being in no condition to pursue
them. By this time Li Guang's army had been practically wiped out. When the
two leaders returned to the capital, they were called to account before the law.
Zhang Qian was condemned to death for failing to keep his rendezvous with Li
Guang at the appointed time, but on payment of a fine he was allowed to become
a commoner. In the case of Li Guang it was decided that his achievements and
his failures cancelled each other out and he was given no reward.
Li Guang's cousin Li Cai had begun his career along with Li Guang as an
attendant at the court of Emperor Wen. During rhe reign of Emperor Jing, Li
Cai managed to accumulate sufficient merit to advance to the position of a 2,000
picul official, and under the present emperor he became prime minister of Dai.
124 Han Dynasty II
In the fifth year of yuanshuo (124 BC) he was appointed a general of light
carriage and accompanied the general in chief Wei Qing in an attack on the
Xi on gnu Wise King of the Right. His achievements in this campaign placed him
in the middle group of those who were to receive rewards and he was accord-
ingly enfeoffed as marquis of Lean. In the second year of yuanshou (121 BC)
he replaced Gongsun Hong as chancellor of the central court. In ability one
would be obliged to rank Li Cai very close to the bottom, and his reputation
came nowhere near to equalling that of Li Guang. And yet, although Li Guang
never managed to obtain a fief and never rose higher than one of the nine lower
offices of the government, that of colonel of the guard, his cousin Li Cai was
enfeoffed as a marquis and eventually reached the position of chancellor, one
of the three highest posts. Even some of Li Guang' s own officers and men
succeeded in becoming marquises.
Li Guang was once chatting with Wang Shuo, a diviner who told men' s
fortunes by the configurations of the sky, and remarked on this fact. "Ever since
the Han started attacking the Xi on gnu, I have never failed to be in the fight. I've
had men in my command who were company commanders or even lower and
who didn't even have the ability of average men, and yet twenty or thirty of
them have won marquisates on the strength of their achievements in attacking
the barbarian armies. I have never been behind anyone else in doing my duty.
Why is it I have never won an ounce of distinction so that I could be enfeoffed
like the others? Is it that I just don' t have the kind of face to become a marquis?
Or is it all a matter of fate?"
"Think carefully, general," replied Wang Shuo. "Isn' t there something in
the past that you regret having done?"
"Once, when I was governor of Longxi, the Qiang tribes in the west started
a revolt. I tried to talk them into surrendering, and in fact persuaded over 800
oft.hem to give themselves up. But then I went back on my word and killed them
all the very same day. I have never ceased to regret what I did. But that's the
only thing I can think of."
"Nothing brings greater misfortune than killing those who have already
surrendered to you," said Wang Shuo. "This is the reason, general, that you have
never become a marquis!"
Two years later the general in chief Wei Qing and the general of swift
cavalry Huo Qubing set off with a large force to attack the Xiongnu. Li Guang
several times asked to be allowed to join them, but the emperor considered that
he was too old and would not permit him to go. After some time, however, the
General Li Guang 125
emperor changed his mind and gave his consent, appointing him as general of
the vanguard. The time was the fourth year of yuanshou (119 BC).
Li Guang accordingly joined the general in chief Wei Qing and set off to
attack the Xiongnu. After the group had crossed the border, Wei Qing captured
one of the enemy and learned the whereabouts of the Shanyu. He therefore
decided to take his own best troops and make a dash for the spot, ordering Li
Guang to join forces with the general of the right Zhao Yiji and ride around by
the eastern road. The eastern road was rather long and roundabout and, since
there was little water or grass in the region, it presented a difficult route for a
large army to pass over. Li Guang therefore asked Wei Qing to change the order.
"I have been appointed as general of the vanguard," he said, "and yet now you
have shifted my position and ordered me to go around by the east. I have been
fighting the Xiongnu ever since I was old enough to wear my hair bound up,
and now I would like to have just one chance to get at the Shanyu. I beg you to
let me stay in the vanguard and advance and fight to the death with him!"
Wei Qing had been warned in private by the emperor that Li Guang was an
old man and had already had a lot of bad luck in the past. "Don' t let him try to
get at the Shanyu, or he will probably make a mess of things!" the emperor had
said. Also, at this time Gongsun Ao, who had recently been deprived of his
marquisate, was serving as a general under Wei Qing, and Wei Qing wanted to
take him along with him in his attack on the Shanyu so that Gongsun Ao would
have a chance to win some distinction. For these reasons he removed Li Guang
from his post of general of the vanguard.
Li Guang was aware of all this and tried his best to get out of obeying the
order, but Wei Qing refused to listen to his arguments. Instead he sent one of
his clerks with a sealed letter to Li Guang's tent and orders to "proceed to your
division at once in accordance with the instructions herein!" Li Guang did not
even bother to take leave of Wei Qing but got up and went straight to his division,
burning with rage and indignation and, leading his troops to join those of the
general of the right Zhao Yiji, set out by the eastern road. Lacking proper guides,
however, they lost their way and failed to meet up with Wei Qing at the
appointed time. Wei Qing in the meantime engaged the Shanyu in battle, but
the latter fled and Wei Qing, being unable to capture him, was forced to tum
back south again. After crossing the desert, he joined up with the forces of Li
Guang and Zhao Yiji.
When Li Guang had fmished making his report to Wei Qing and returned
to his own camp, Wei Qing sent over his clerk with the customary gifts of dried
126 Han Dynasty II
rice and thick wine for Li Guang. While the clerk was there, he began to inquire
how it happened that Li Guang and Zhao Yiji had lost their way, since Wei Qing
had to make a detailed report to the emperor on what had happened to the armies.
Li Guang, however, refused to answer his questions.
Wei Qing sent his clerk again to reprimand Li Guang in the strongest terms
and order him to report to general headquarters at once and answer a list of
charges that had been drawn up against him. Li Guang replied, "None of my
commanders was at fault. I was the one who caused us to lose our way. I will
send in a report myself."
Then he went in person to headquarters and, when he got there, said to his
officers, "Since I was old enough to wear my hair bound up, I have fought over
seventy engagements, large and small, with the Xiongnu. This time I was
fortunate enough to join the general in chief in a campaign against the soldiers
of the Shanyu himself, but he shifted me to another division and sent me riding
around by the long way. On top of that, I lost my way. Heaven must have planned
it this way! Now I am over sixty- much too old to stand up to a bunch of petty
clerks and their list of charges!" Then he drew his sword and cut his throat.
All the officers and men in his army wept at the news of his death, and when
word reached the common people, those who had known him and those who
had not, old men and young boys alike, were all moved to tears by his fate. Zhao
Yiji was handed over to the law officials and sentenced to death, but on payment
of a fine he was allowed to become a commoner.
Li Guang had three sons, Danghu, Jiao, and Gan, all of whom were palace
attendants. One day when the present emperor was amusing himself with his
young favourite, Han Y an, the boy behaved so impertinently that Li Danghu
struck him and drove him from the room. The emperor was much impressed
with Danghu's courage. Li Danghu died young. Li Jiao was made governor of
Dai Province. He and Danghu both died before their father. Danghu had a son
named Li Ling who was born shortly after Danghu died. LiGan was serving in
the army under the general of light cavalry Huo Qubing when Li Guang
committed suicide.
The year after Li Guang's death his cousin Li Cai, who was serving as
chancellor at the time, was accused of appropriating land that belonged to the
funerary park of Emperor Jing. He was to be handed over to the law officials
for trial, but he too committed suicide rather than face being sent to prison, and
his fief was abolished.
Li Gan served as a commander under Huo Qubing, taking part in an attack
General Li Guang 127
on the Xiongnu Wise King of the Left. He fought bravely in the attack, seizing
the drums and pennants of the barbarian king and cutting off many heads. He
was rewarded by being enfeoffed as a marquis in the area within the Pass,
receiving the revenue from a city of 200 households. In addition he was
appointed to replace his father, Li Guang, as chief of palace attendants.
Sometime afterwards, deeply resentful at the general in chief Wei Qing for
having brought about his father's disgrace, he struck and wounded Wei Qing.
Wei Qing, however, hushed up the incident and said nothing about it. Shortly
afterwards, Li Gan accompanied the emperor on a trip to Y ong. When the party
reached the Palace of Sweet Springs, an imperial hunt was held. Huo Qubing,
who was on very close terms with Wei Qing, took the opportunity to shoot and
kill Li Gan. At this time Huo Qubing enjoyed great favour with the emperor,
and the emperor therefore covered up for him, giving out the story that Li Gao
had been gored and killed by a stag. A year or so later, Huo Qubing died.
Li Gan had a daughter who became a lady in waiting to the heir apparent
and was much loved and favoured by him. Li Gao' s son Li Yu also enjoyed
favour with the heir apparent, but he was somewhat too fond of profit. So the
fortunes of the Li family gradually waned.
(When Danghu's son Li Ling grew up, he was appointed as supervisor of
the Jianzhang Palace, being in charge of the cavalry. He was skilful at archery
and took good care of his soldiers. The emperor, considering that the Li family
had been generals for generations, put Li Ling in charge of a force of 800 cavalry.
Once he led an expedition that penetrated over 2,000 li into Xiongnu territory,
passing Juyan and observing the lay of the land, but he returned without having
caught sight of the enemy. On his return he was appointed a chief commandant
of cavalry and put in command of 5,000 men from Danyang in the region of
Chu, and for several years he taught archery and garrisoned the provinces of
Jiuquan and Zhangye to protect them from the Xiongnu.
In the autumn of the second year of tianhan (99 BC) the Sutrishna General
Li Guangli led a force of30,000 cavalry in an attack on the Xiongnu Wise King
of the Right at the Qilian or Heavenly Mountains. He ordered Li Ling to lead a
force of 5,000 infantry and archers north from Juyan and advance about I ,000
li into enemy territory. In this way he hoped to split the Xiongnu forces so that
they would not all race in his direction.
Li Ling had already reached the point he was ordered to proceed to and had
begun the march back, when the Shanyu with a force of 80,000 men surrounded
his army and began to attack. Li Ling and his army of 5,000 fought a running
Han Dynasty II
battle for eight days, retreating as they fought, until all their weapons and arrows
were gone and half the men had been killed. In the course of the fighting they
managed to kill ar wound over 10,000 of the enemy.
When they reached a point only 100 li or so from Juyan, the Xiongnu
cornered them in a narrow valley and cut off their avenue of escape. Li Ling's
food supplies were exhausted and no rescue troops were in sight, while the
enemy pressed their attack and called on Li Ling to surrender. "I could never
face the emperor and report such a disaster," Li Ling told his men, and finally
surrendered to the Xiongnu. Practically all his soldiers perished in the fight; only
some 400 managed to escape and straggle back to Han territory. The Shanyu
had already heard of the fame of Li Ling's family and observed his bravery in
battle, and as a result he gave him his own daughter as a wife and treated him
with honour. When the emperor received news of this, he executed Li Ling's
mother and his wife and children. From this time on the name of the Li family
was disgraced and all the retainers of the family in Longxi were ashamed to be
associated with it.)
The Grand Historian remarks: One of the old books says, "If he himself is
upright, those under him will act without being ordered to; if he himself is not
upright, they will not obey even when ordered. "
It refers, no doubt, to men like
General Li.
I myself have seen General Li -a man so plain and unassuming that you
would take him for a peasant, and almost incapable of speaking a word. And
yet the day he died all the people of the empire, whether they had known him
or not, were moved to the profoundest grief, so deepl y did men trust his sincerity
of purpose. There is a proverb which says, "Though the peach tree does not
speak, the world wears a path beneath it." It is a small saying, but one which is
capable of conveying a great meaning.
This last section in parentheses is most likely not by Sima Qian, but a later addition. It
differs from the account of Li Ling's life in Han shu 54 and deals with events that are later
than those described elsewhere in the Shi ji. It may be recalled that Sima Qian was condemned
to castration for speaking out in defense ofLi Ling to the emperor when the news of Li Ling' s
surrender reached the coun. Sima Qian's own account of Li Ling's battle and surrender is
found in hi s letter to Ren Shaoqing, translated in Ssu-ma Ch' ien: Grand Historian of China.
pp. 51-67.
Analects XIU, 6.
From the time of the Three Dynasties on, the Xiongnu have been a source
of constant worry and harm to China. The Han has attempted to determine
the Xiongnu's periods of strength and weakness so that it may adopt
defensive measures or launch punitive expeditions as the circumstances
allow. Thus I made "The Account of the Xiongnu".
The ancestor of the Xiongnu was a descendant of the rulers of the Xia
dynasty by the name of Chunwei. As early as the time of Emperors Yao and
Shun and before, we hear of these people, known as Mountain Barbarians,
Xianyun, or Hunzhu, living in the region of the northern barbarians and
wandering from place to place pasturing their animals. The animals they raise
consist mainly of horses, cows, and sheep, but include such rare beasts as
camels, asses, mules, and the wild horses known as taotu and tuoji. They move
about in search of water and pasture and have no walled cities or fixed dwellings,
nor do they engage in any kind of agriculture. Their lands, however, are divided
into regions under the control of various leaders. They have no writing, and even
promises and agreements are only verbal. The little boys start out by learning
to ride sheep and shoot birds and rats with a bow and arrow, and when they get
a little older they shoot foxes and hares, which are used for food. Thus all the
young men are able to use a bow and act as armed cavalry in time of war. It is
their custom to herd their flocks in times of peace and make their living by
hunting, but in periods of crisis they take up arms and go off on plundering and
marauding expeditions. This seems to be their inborn nature. For long-range
weapons they use bows and arrows, and swords and spears at close range. If the
battle is going well for them they will advance, but if not, they will retreat, for
they do not consider it a disgrace to run away. Their only concern is self-advan-
tage, and they know nothing of propriety or righteousness.
From the chiefs of the tribe on down, everyone eats the meat of the domestic
animals and wears clothes of hide or wraps made of felt or fur. The young men
eat the richest and best food, while the old get what is left over, since the tribe
Han Dynasty II
honours those who are young and strong and despises the weak and aged. On
the death of his father, a son will marry his stepmother, and when brothers die,
the remaining brothers will take the widows for their own wives. They have no
polite names
but only personal names, and they observe no taboos in the use
of personal names.
When the power of the Xi a dynasty declined, Gong Liu, the ancestor of the
Zhou dynasty, having lost his position as minister of grain, went to live among
the Western Rong barbarians, adopting their ways and founding a city at Bin.
Some 300 years later the Rong and Di tribes attacked Gong Liu' s descendant,
the Great Lord Danfu. Danfu fled to the foot of Mt. Qi and the whole population
of Bin followed after him, founding a new city there. This was the beginning of
the Zhou state.
A hundred and some years later Chang, the Zhou Earl of the West, attacked
the Quanyishi tribe, and ten or twelve years later, his son, King Wu, overthrew
Emperor Zhou, the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, and founded a new capital
at Luo. He also occupied the regions of Feng and Hao, drove the barbarians
north beyond the Jing and Luo rivers, and obliged them to bring tribute to his
court at specified times. Their lands were known as "the submissive wastes".
Some 200 years later, when the power of the Zhou dynasty had declined,
King Mu attacked the Dog Rong and brought back with him four white wolves
and four white deer which he had seized. From this time on, the peoples of the
"submissive wastes" no longer journeyed to court. (At this time the Zhou
adopted the penal code of Marquis Fu.)
Some 200 years after the time of King M u, King You of the Zhou, egged
on by his beloved concubine Baosi, quarrelled with Marquis Shen. In anger,
Marquis Shen joined forces with the Dog Rong and attacked and killed King
You at the foot ofMt. Li. Eventually the barbarians seized the region of Jiaohuo
from the Zhou, occupied the area between the Jing and Wei rivers, and invaded
and plundered the central region of China. Duke Xiang of Qin came to the rescue
of the Zhou court, and King You's successor King Ping abandoned the regions
of Feng and Hao and moved his capital east to the city of Luo. (At this time
Duke Xiang of Qin attacked the barbarians and advanced as far as Mt. Qi; as a
The text says "no family names or polite names", but the word "family names" is
probably an error here. Polite names are names which are used in place of personal names
to avoid the appearance of over-familiarity.
The penal code now comprises a chapter of the Book of Documents, where it is
known as the code of Marquis Lii.
Xiongnu 131
result he was for the first time ranked among the feudal lords of the Zhou
Sixty-five years later (704 BC) the Mountain Barbarians crossed through
the state of Y an and attacked Qi. Duke Li of Qi fought with them in the suburbs
of his capital. Forty-four years later the Mountain Barbarians attacked Y an, but
Y an reported its distress to Duke Huan of Qi, who rode north and attacked the
barbarians, driving them off.
Some twenty years later the barbarians rode as far as the capital city of Luo
and attacked King Xiang of the Zhou; King Xiang fled to the city of Fan in
Zheng. Previously King Xiang had wanted to attack the state ofZheng and had
therefore married a daughter of the barbarians and made her his queen; then,
with the aid of the barbarian forces, he had made his attack on Zheng. Having
accomplished his purpose, however, he cast aside his barbarian queen, much to
her resentment. King Xiang's stepmother, Queen Hui, had a son named Zidai
whom she wished to place on the throne, and therefore Queen Hui, her son, and
the barbarian queen agreed to cooperate with the barbarian attackers from within
the capital by opening the city to them. Thus the barbarians were able to enter,
defeat and drive out King Xiang, and set up Zidai as Son of Heaven in his place.
After this the barbarians occupied the area of Luhun, roaming as far east as
the state of Wey, ravaging and plundering the lands of central China with fearful
cruelty. The empire was deeply troubled, and therefore the poets in the Book of
Odes wrote:
We smote the barbarians of the north.
We struck the Xianyun
And drove them to the great plain.
We sent forth our chariots in majestic array
And walled the northern regions.
After King Xiang had been driven from his throne and had lived abroad for
four years, he sent an envoy to the state of Jin to explain his plight. Duke Wen
of Jin, havingjust come to power, wanted to make a name for himself as dictator
and protector of the royal house, and therefore he raised an army and attacked
and drove out the barbarians, executing Zidai and restoring King Xiang to his
throne in Luo.
Sima Qian quotes from three different poems: "Bigong" of the "Temple Odes ofLu",
and "Liuyue" and "Chuju" of the "Lesser Odes".
Han Dynasty II
At this time Qin and Jin were the most powerful states in China. Duke Wen
of Jin expelled the Di barbarians and drove them into the region west of the
Yellow River between the Yun and Luo rivers; there they were known as the
Red Di and the White Di. Shortly afterwards, Duke Mu of Qin, having obtained
the services of You Yu,
succeeded in getting the eight barbarian tribes of the
west to submit to his authority.
Thus at this time there lived in the region west of Long the Mianzhu, the
Hunrong, and the Diyuan tribes. North of Mts. Qi and Liang and the Jing and
Qi rivers lived the Yiqu, Dali, Wuzhi, and Quyan tribes. North of Jin were the
Forest Barbarians and the Loufan, while north ofYan lived the Eastern Barbar-
ians and Mountain Barbarians. All of them were scattered about in their own
little valleys, each with their own chieftains. From time to time they would have
gatherings of a hundred or more men, but no one tribe was capable of unifying
the others under a single rule.
Some I 00 years later Duke Dao of Jin sent Wei Jiang to make peace with
the barbarians, so that they came to pay their respects to the court of Jin. A
hundred or so years after this, Viscount Xiang of the Zhao family of Jin crossed
Mt. Juzhu, defeated the barbarians, and annexed the region of Dai, bringing his
state into contact with the Huhe tribes. Shortly afterwards he joined with the
viscounts of the Hann and Wei families in wiping out their rival, Zhi Bo, and
dividing up the state of Jin among the three of them. Thus the Zhao family held
possession of Dai and the lands north of Mt. Juzhu, while the Wei family held
the provinces of Hexi (Ordos) and Shang, bordering the lands of the barbarians.
After this the Yiqu tribes began to build walls and fortifications to protect
themselves, but the state of Qin gradually ate into their territory and, under King
Hui, finally seized twenty-five of their forts. King Hui also attacked the state of
Wei, forcing it to cede to him the provinces of Hexi and Shang.
During the reign of King Zhao of Qin the ruler of the Yiqu barbarians had
illicit relations with King Zhao's mother, the Queen Dowager Xuan, by whom
he had two sons. Later the queen dowager deceived and murdered him at the
Palace of Sweet Springs and eventually raised an army and sent it to attack and
You Yu' s ancestors came from the state of Jin: he himself had been born among the
barbarians but could speak the language of Jin. The barbarian king sent him to the court of
Duke Mu of Qin, who questioned him closely on the customs, lands, and military strength of
the barbarians. Duke Mu later succeeded in arousing enmity between the barbarian ruler and
You Yu, and the latter finally fled to Qin and became the duke' s adviser on barbarian affairs.
The fuller account is found in Shi ji 5, ' The Basic Annals of Qin", in vol. ill.
ravage the lands of the Yiqu. Thus Qin carne into possession of Longxi, Beidi,
and Shang Provinces, where it built long walls to act as a defence against the
At the same time King Wuling of Zhao changed the customs of his people,
ordering them to adopt barbarian dress and to practise riding and shooting, and
then led them north in a successful attack on the Forest Barbarians and the
Loufan. He constructed a defensive wall stretching from Dai along the foot of
the Yin Mountains to Gaoque, establishing the three provinces of Yunzhong,
Y anmen, and Dai.
A little later a worthy general named Qin Kai appeared in the state ofYan.
He had earlier been sent as a hostage to the barbarians and had won their deepest
confidence; on returning to his state, he led an attack on the Eastern Barbarians,
defeating and driving them over 1,000 li from the border of the state. (The Qin
Wuyang who took part with Jing Ke in the attempted assassination of the king
ofQin was this man' s grandson. ) Yan also constructed a long wall from Zaoyang
to Xiangping and set up the provinces of Shanggu, Yuyang, Y oubeiping, Liaoxi,
and Liaodong to guard against the attacks of the barbarians.
By this time China, the land of caps and girdles, was divided among seven
states, three of which bordered the territory of the Xiongnu. Later, while the
Zhao general Li Mu was living, the Xiongnu did not dare to cross the border of
Finally Qin overthrew the other six states, and the First Emperor of the Qin
dispatched Meng Tian to lead a force of 100,000 men north to attack the
barbarians. He seized control of all the lands south of the Yellow River and
established border defences along the river, constructing forty-four walled
district cities overlooking the river and manning them with convict labourers
transported to the border for garrison duty. He also built the Direct Road from
Jiuyuan to Yunyang. Thus he utilized the natural mountain barriers to establish
the border defences, scooping out the valleys and constructing ramparts and
building installations at other points where they were needed. The whole line
of defences stretched over 10,000 li from Lintao to Liaodong and even extended
across the Yellow River and through Yangshan and Beijia.
From thi s it may be seen that the First Emperor of the Qin, in building the Great Wall ,
did not have to begin from scratch, as is often implied, but simply repaired and linked up the
older walls of these northern states.
134 Han Dynasty II
At this time the Eastern Barbarians were very powerful and the Yuezhi were
likewise flourishing. The Shanyu or chieftain of the Xiongnu was named
Touman. Touman, unable to hold out against the Qin forces, had withdrawn to
the far north, where he lived with his subjects for over ten years. After Meng
Tian died and the feudal lords revolted against the Qin, plunging China into a
period of strife and turmoil , the convicts which the Qin had sent to the northern
border to garrison the area all returned to their homes. The Xiongnu, the pressure
against them relaxed, once again began to infiltrate south of the bend of the
Yellow River until they had established themselves along the old border of
Touman 's oldest son, the heir apparent to his position, was named Maodun,
but the Shanyu also had a younger son by another consort whom he had taken
later and was very fond of. He decided that he wanted to get ride of Maodun
and set up his younger son as heir instead, and he therefore sent Maodun as
hostage to the Yuezhi nation. Then, after Maodun had arrived among the
Yuezhi, Touman made a sudden attack on them. The Yuezhi were about to kill
Maodun in retaliation, but he managed to steal one of their best horses and
escape, eventually making his way back home. His father, struck by his bravery,
put him in command of a force of 10,000 cavalry.
Maodun had some arrows made that whistled in flight and used them to
drill his troops in shooting from horseback. "Shoot wherever you see my
whistling arrow strike!" he ordered, "and anyone who fails to shoot will be cut
down!" Then he went out hunting for birds and animals, and if any of his men
failed to shoot at what he himself had shot at, he cut them down on the spot.
After this, he shot a whistling arrow at one of his best horses. Some of his men
hung back and did not dare shoot at the horse, whereupon Maodun at once
executed them. A little later he took an arrow and shot at his favourite wife.
Again some of his men shrank back in terror and failed to discharge their arrows,
and again he executed them on the spot. Finally he went out hunting with his
men and shot a whistling arrow at one of his father's finest horse. All his
followers promptly discharged their arrows in the same direction, and Maodun
knew that at last they could be trusted. Accompanying his father, the Shanyu
Touman, on a hunting expedition, he shot a whistling arrow at his father and
every one of his followers aimed their arrows in the same direction and shot the
Shanyu dead. Then Maodun executed his stepmother, his younger brother, and
all the high officials of the nation who refused to take orders from him, and set
himself up as the new Shanyu.
X ion gnu
At this time the Eastern Barbarians were very powerful and, hearing that
Maodun had killed his father and made himself leader, they sent an envoy to
ask if they could have Touman's famous horse that could run 1,000 li in one
day. Maodun consulted his ministers, but they all replied, "The thousand-li horse
is one of the treasures of the Xi on gnu people. You should not give it away! "
"When a neighbouring country asks for it, why should I begrudge them one
horse?" he said, and sent them the thousand-Li horse.
After a while the Eastern Barbarians, supposing that Maodun was afraid of
them, sent an envoy to ask for one of Maodun's consorts. Again Maodun
questioned his ministers, and they replied in a rage, "The Eastern Barbarians
are unreasoning beasts to come and request one of the Shanyu's consorts. We
beg to attack them!"
But Maodun replied, "If it is for a neighbouring country, why should I
begrudge them one woman?" and he sent his favourite consort to the Eastern
With this the ruler of the Eastern Barbarians grew more and more bold and
arrogant, invading the lands to the west. Between his territory and that of the
Xiongnu was an area of over I ,000 li of uninhabited land; the two peoples made
their homes on either side of this wasteland.
The ruler of the Eastern Barbarians
sent an envoy to Maodun saying, "The Xi on gnu have no way of using this stretch
of wasteland which lies between my border and yours. I would like to take
possession of it!"
When Maodun consulted his ministers, some of them said, "Since the land
is of no use you might as well give it to him," while others said, "No, you must
not give it away!"
Maodun flew into a rage. "Land is the basis of the nation!" he said. "Why
should I give it away?" And he executed all the ministers who had advised him
to do so.
Then he mounted his horse and set off to attack the Eastern Barbarians,
circulating an order throughout his domain that anyone who was slow to follow
would be executed. The Eastern Barbarians had up until this time despised
Maodun and made no preparations for their defence; when Maodun and his
soldiers arrived, they inflicted a crushing defeat, killing the ruler of the Eastern
Barbarians, taking prisoner his subjects, and seizing their domestic animals.
Then he returned and rode west, attacking and routing the Yuezhi, and annexed
The Gobi Desert.
136 Han Dynasty II
the lands of the ruler of Loufan and the ruler of Boyang south of the Yellow
River. Thus he recovered possession of all the lands which the Qin general Meng
Tian had taken away from the. Xiongnu; the border between his territory and
that of the Han empire now followed the old line of defences south of the Yellow
River, and from there he marched into the Chaona and Fushi districts and then
invaded Y an and Dai.
At this time the Han forces were stalemated in battle with the armies of
Xiang Yu, and China was exhausted by warfare. Thus Maodun was able to
strengthen his position, massing a force of over 300,000 skilled crossbowmen.
Over 1,000 years had elapsed from the time of Chunwei, the ancestor of
the Xiongnu, to that of Maodun, a vast period during which the tribes split up
and scattered into various groups, sometimes expanding, sometimes dwindling
in size. Thus it is impossible to give any ordered account of the lineage of the
Xiongnu rulers. When Maodun came to power, however, the Xiongnu reached
their peak of strength and size, subjugating all of the other barbarian tribes of
the north and turning south to confront China as a rival nation. As a result of
this, it is possible to give an account here of the later Xi on gnu rulers and of the
offices and titles of the nation.
Under the Shanyu are the Wise Kings of the Left and Right, the left and
right Luli kings, left and right generals, left and right commandants, left and
right household administrators, and left and right Gudu marquises. The Xiongnu
word for "wise" is "tuqi", so that the heir of the Shanyu is customarily called
the "Tuqi King of the Left". Among the other leaders, from the wise kings on
down to the household administrators, the more important ones command
l 0,000 horsemen and the lesser ones several thousand, numbering twenty-four
leaders in all, though all are known by the title of ' Ten Thousand Horsemen".
The high ministerial offices are hereditary, being filled from generation to
generation by the members of the Huyan and Lan families, and in more recent
times by the Xubu family. These three families constitute the aristocracy of the
nation. The kings and other leaders of the left live in the eastern sector, the region
from Shanggu east to the lands of the Huimo and Chaoxian peoples. The kings
and leaders of the right live in the west, the area from Shang Province west to
the territories of the Yuezhi and Qiang tribes. The Shanyu has his court in the
region nm1h of Dai and Yunzhong. Each group has its own area, within which
it moves about from place to place looking for water and pasture. The Left and
Right Wise Kings and Luli kings are the most powerful, while the Gudu
marquises assist the Shanyu in the administration of the nation. Each of the
Xiongnu 137
twenty-four leaders in tum appoints his own "chiefs of a thousand", "chiefs of
a hundred", and "chiefs often", as well as his subordinate kings, prime ministers,
chief commandants, household administrators,juqu
officials, and so forth.
In the first month of the year the various leaders come together in a small
meeting at the Shanyu's court to perform sacrifices, and in the fifth month a
great meeting is held at Longcheng at which sacrifices are conducted to the
Xiongnu ancestors, Heaven and Earth, and the gods and spirits. In the autumn,
when the horses are fat, another great meeting is held at the Dai Forest when a
reckoning is made of the number of persons and animals.
According to Xiongnu law, anyone who in ordinary times draws his sword
a foot from the scabbard is condemned to death. Anyone convicted of theft has
his property confiscated. Minor offences are punished by flogging and major
ones by death. No one is kept in jail awaiting sentence longer than ten days, and
the number of imprisoned men for the whole nation does not exceed a handful. R
At dawn the Shanyu leaves his camp and makes obeisance to the sun as it
rises, and in the evening he makes a similar obeisance to the moon. In seating
arrangements the left side or the seat facing north is considered the place of
honour. The days wu and ji of the ten-day week are regarded as most auspicious.
In burials the Xiongnu use an inner and an outer coffin, with accessories of
gold, silver, clothing, and fur, but they do not construct grave mounds or plant
trees on the grave, nor do they use mourning garments. When a ruler dies, the
ministers and concubines who were favoured by him and who are obliged to
follow him in death often number in the hundreds or even thousands.
Whenever the Xiongnu begin some undertaking, they observe the stars and
the moon. They attack when the moon is full and withdraw their troops when it
wanes. After a battle those who have cut off the heads of the enemy or taken
prisoners are presented with a cup of wine and allowed to keep the spoils they
have captured. Any prisoners that are taken are made slaves. Therefore, when
they fight, each man strives for his own gain. They are very skilful at using decoy
troops to lure their opponents to destruction. When they catch sight of the
enemy, they swoop down like a flock of birds, eager for booty, but when they
find themselves hard pressed and beaten, they scatter and vanish like the mist.
7 . .
It 1s Impossible to tell from the name alone what this title means. In later times, when
these peoples invaded and conquered northern China, Juqu became a Chinese surname.
Sima Qian is inviting a comparison with the situation in China in his own day, when the
jails were full to overflowing with men awaiting sentence.
138 Han Dynasty ll
Anyone who succeeds in recovering the body of a comrade who has fallen in
battle receives all of the dead man's property.
Shortly after the period described above, Maodun launched a series of
campaigns to the north, conquering the tribes of Hunyu, Qushe, Dingling,
Gekun, and Xinli. Thus the nobles and high ministers of the Xiongnu were all
won over by Maodun, considering him a truly worthy leader.
At this time Gaozu, the founder of the Han, had just succeeded in winning
control of the empire and had transferred Xin, the former king of Hann, to the
rulership of Dai, with his capital at Mayi. The Xiongnu surrounded Mayi and
attacked the city in great force, whereupon Hann Xin surrendered to them. With
Hann Xin on their side, they then proceeded to lead their troops south across
Mt. Juzhu and attack Taiyuan, marching as far as the city of Jinyang. Emperor
Gaozu led an army in person to attack them, but it was winter and he encountered
such cold and heavy snow that two or three out of every ten of his men lost their
fingers from frostbite. Maodun feigned a retreat to lure the Han soldiers on to
an attack. When they came after him in pursuit, he concealed all of his best
troops and left only his weakest and puniest men to be observed by the Han
scouts. With this the entire Han force, supplemented by 320,000 infantry, rushed
north to pursue him; Gaozu led the way, advancing as far as the city of
Before the infantry had had a chance to arrive, however, Maodun swooped
down with 400,000 of his best cavalry, surrounded Gaozu on White Peak, and
held him there for seven days. The Han forces within the encirclement had no
way of receiving aid or provisions from their comrades outside, since the
Xiongnu cavalry surrounded them on all sides, with white horses on the west
side, greenish horses on the east, black horses on the north, and red ones on the
Gaozu sent an envoy in secret to Maodun's consort, presenting her with
generous gifts, whereupon she spoke to Maodun, saying, "Why should the rulers
of these two nations make such trouble for each other? Even if you gained
possession of the Han lands, you could never occupy them, and the ruler of the
Han may have his guardian deities as well as you. I beg you to consider the
matter well!"
These four colours are symbolic of !he four directions in Chinese belief and, if the
narrative is correct, in Xiongnu belief as welL
X ion gnu 139
Maodun had previously arranged for the troops of Wang Huang and Zhao
Li, two ofHann Xin 's generals, to meet with him, but though the appointed time
had come, they failed to appear and he began to suspect that they were plotting
with the Han forces. He therefore decided to listen to his consort's advice and
withdrew his forces from one comer of the encirclement. Gaozu ordered his
men to load their crossbows with arrows and hold them in readiness pointed
toward the outside. These preparations completed, they marched straight out of
the encirclement and finally joined up with the rest of the army.
Maodun eventually withdrew his men and went away, and Gaozu likewise
retreated and abandoned the campaign, dispatching Liu ling to conclude a peace
treaty with the Xiongnu instead.
After this Hann Xin became a general for the Xiongnu, and Zhao Li and
Wang Huang repeatedly violated the peace treaty by invading and plundering
Dai and Yunzhong. Shortly afterwards, Chen Xi revolted and joined with Hann
Xin in a plot to attack Dai. Gaozu dispatched Fan Kuai to go and attack them;
he recovered possession of the provinces and districts of Dai , Yanmen, and
Yunzhong, but did not venture beyond the frontier.
At this time a number of Han generals had gone over to the side of the
Xiongnu, and for this reason Maodun was constantly plundering the region of
Dai and causing the Han great worry. Gaozu therefore dispatched Liu Jing to
present a princess of the imperial family to the Shanyu to be his consort. The
Han agreed to send a gift of specified quantities of silk floss and cloth, grain,
and other food stuffs each year, and the two nations were to live in peace and
brotherhood. After this Maodun raided the frontier Jess often than before. Later
Lu Wan, the king of Yan, revolted and led his party of several thousand
followers across the border to surrender to the Xiongnu; they roamed back and
forth in the region from Shanggu to the east, causing considerable disturbance.
After Emperor Gaozu passed away, Emperor Hui and Empress Li.i in turn
ruled the country. At this time the Han had just come to power and the Xiongnu,
unimpressed by its strength, were behaving with great arrogance. Maodun even
. I. l E
sent an msu tmg etterto mpress Li.i. She wanted to launch a campaign against
him, but her generals reminded her that "even Emperor Gaozu, with all his
wisdom and bravery, encountered great difficulty at Pingcheng", and she was
In his letter Maodun suggested that, since both he and Empress Lii were old and lonely,
they might get together and console each other.
140 Han Dynasty I!
finally persuaded to give up the idea and resume friendly relations with the
When Emperor Wen came to the throne he renewed the peace treaty with
the Xiongnu. In the fifth month of the third year of his reign ( 177 BC), however,
the Xiongnu Wise King of the Right invaded the region south of the Yell ow
River, plundering the loyal barbarians of Shang Province who had been appoint-
ed by the Han to guard the frontier, and murdering and carrying off a number
of the inhabitants. Emperor Wen ordered the chancellor Guan Ying to lead a
force of 85,000 carriages and cavalry to Gaonu, where they attacked the Wise
King of the Right. The latter fled beyond the frontier. The emperor in person
visited Taiyuan, at which time the king of Jibei revolted. When the emperor
returned to the capital he disbanded the army which Guan Ying had used in the
attack on the barbarians.
The following year the Shanyu sent a letter to the Han court which read:
The great Shanyu whom Heaven has set up respectfully inquires
of the emperor's health. Formerly the emperor broached the question
of a peace alliance, and I was most happy to comply with the intentions
expressed in his letter. Certain of the Han border officials, however,
imposed upon and insulted the Wise King of the Right, and as a result
he heeded the counsel of Houyi, Luhou, Nanzhi, and others of his
generals and, without asking my permission, engaged in a skirmish
with the Han officials, thus violating the pact between the rulers of our
two nations and rupturing the bonds of brotherhood that joined us. The
emperor has twice sent letters complaining of this situation and I have
in turn dispatched an envoy with my answer, but my envoy has not
been allowed to return, nor has any envoy come from the Han. As a
result, the Han has broken off peaceful relations and our two
neighbouring countries are no longer bound in alliance.
Because of the violation of the pact committed by the petty
officials, and the subsequent events, I have punished the Wise King of
the Right by sending him west to search out the Yuezhi people and
attack them. Through the aid of Heaven, the excellence of his fighting
men, and the strength of his horses, he has succeeded in wiping out the
Yuezhi, slaughtering or forcing to submission every member of the
tribe. In addition he has conquered the Loulan, Wusun, and Hujie
tribes, as well as the twenty-six states nearby, so that all of them have
become a part of the Xiongnu nation. All the people who live by
drawing the bow are now united into one family and the entire region
of the north is at peace.
Thus I wish now to lay down my weapons, rest my soldiers, and
turn my horses to pasture; to forget the recent affair and restore our old
pact, that the peoples of the border may have peace such as they
enjoyed in former times, that the o u n ; ~ may grow to manhood, the old
live out their lives in security, and ger.eration after generation enjoy
peace and comfort.
However, I do not as yet know the intentions of the emperor.
Therefore I have dispatched my palace attendant Xihuqian to bear this
letter. At the same time I beg to present one camel, two riding horses,
and eight carriage horses. If the emperor does not wish the Xiongnu to
approach his frontier, then he should order the officials and people
along the border to withdraw a good distance back from the frontier.
When my envoy has arrived and delivered this, I trust that he will be
sent back to me.
The envoy bearing the letter arrived in the region of Xinwang during the
sixth month. When it was delivered to the emperor, he began deliberations with
his ministers as to whether it was better to attack or make peace. The high
officials all stated, "Since the Shanyu has just conquered the Yuezhi and is riding
on a wave of victory, he cannot be attacked. Moreover, even if we were to seize
the Xiongnu lands, they are all swamps and saline wastes, not fit for habitation.
It would be far better to make peace."
The emperor agreed with their opinion and in the sixth year of the former
part of his reign (174 BC) he sent an envoy to the Xiongnu with a letter which
read as follows:
The emperor respectfully inquires about the health of the great
Shanyu. Your palace attendant Xihuqian has brought us a letter which
states: "The Wise King of the Right, without asking my permission,
heeded the counsel of Houyi, Luhou, Nanzhi, and others of his gener-
als, violating the pact between the rulers of our two nations and
rupturing the bonds of brotherhood that joined us, and as a result the
Han has broken off peaceful relations with me, and our two neighbour-
ing countries are no longer bound in alliance. Because of the violation
of the pact committed by the petty officials, I have punished the Wise
King of the Right by sending him west to attack the Yuezhi. Having
Han Dynasty /l
completed the conquest of the region, I wish to Jay down my weapons,
rest my soldiers, and tum my horses to pasture; to forget the recent
affair and restore our old pact so that the peoples of the border may
have peace, the young may grow to manhood, the old live out their
lives in security, and generation after generation enjoy peace and
We heartily approve these words. This indeed is the way the sage
rulers of antiquity would have spoken.
The Han has made a pact of brotherhood with the Xiongnu, and
for this reason we have sent generous gifts to you. Any violations of
the pact or ruptures of the bonds of brotherhood have been the work
of the Xiongnu. However, as there has been an amnesty since the affair
of the Wise King of the Right occurred,
you need not punish him too
severely. If your intentions are really those expressed in your letter,
and if you will make them clearly known to your various officials so
that they will henceforth act in good faith and commit no more
violations of the pact, then we are prepared to honour the terms of your
Your envoy tells us that you have led your troops in person to
attack the other barbarian nations and have won merit, suffering great
hardship on the field of battle. We therefore send you from our own
wardrobe an embroidered robe lined with patterned damask, an em-
broidered and lined underrobe, and a brocaded coat, one each; one
comb; one sash with gold ornaments; one gold-ornamented leather
belt; ten rolls of embroidery; thirty rolls of brocade; and forty rolls each
of heavy red silk and light green silk, which shall be delivered to you
by our palace counsellor Yi and master of guests Jian.
Shortly after this, Maodun died and his son Jizhu was set up with the title
of Old Shanyu. When Jizhu became Shanyu, Emperor Wen sent a princess of
the imperial family to be his consort, dispatching a eunuch from Yan named
Zhonghang Yue to accompany her as her tutor. Zhonghang Yue did not wish to
It is not clear what amnesty thi s refers to. The Han shu "Annals of Emperor Wen"
records a general amnesty in the seventh year (173 BC), but none for the years between the
Xiongnu attack and the date of this letter. Perhaps the letter should be dated in the sevemh
year. The whole statement about the amnesty is of course no more than a cleverly phrased
assertion of the Han emperor's sovereignty over the Xiongnu.
Xiongnu 143
undertake the mission, but the Han officials forced him to do so. "My going will
bring nothing but trouble to the Han!" he warned them.
After Zhonghang Yue reached his destination, he went over to the side of
the Shanyu, who treated him with the greatest favour.
The Xiongnu had always had a liking for Han silks and food stuffs, but
Zhonghang Yue told them, "All the multitudes of the Xi on gnu nation would not
amount to one province in the Han empire. The strength of the Xiongnu lies in
the very fact that their food and clothing are different from those of the Chinese,
and they are therefore not dependent upon the Han for anything. Now the Shanyu
has this fondness for Chinese things and is trying to change the Xiongnu
customs. Thus, although the Han sends no more than a fifth of its goods here, it
will in the end succeed in winning over the whole Xiongnu nation. From now
on, when you get any of the Han silks, put them on and try riding around on
your horses through the brush and brambles! In no time your robes and leggings
will be tom to shreds and everyone will be able to see that silks are no match
for the utility and excellence of felt or leather garments. Likewise, when you
get any of the Han foodstuffs, throw them away so that the people can see that
they are not as practical or as tasty as milk and kumiss!"
He also taught the Shanyu's aides how to make an itemized accounting of
the number of persons and domestic animals in the country.
The Han letters addressed to the Shanyu were always written on wooden
tablets one foot and one inch in length and began, "The emperor respectfully
inquires about the health of the great Shanyu of the Xiongnu. We send you the
following articles, etc., etc." Zhonghang Yue, however, instructed the Shanyu
to use in replying to the Han a tablet measuring one foot two inches, decorated
with broad stamps and great long seals, and worded in the following extravagant
manner: "The great Shanyu of the Xiongnu, born of Heaven and Earth and
ordained by the sun and moon, respectfully inquires about the health of the Han
emperor. We send you the following articles, etc., etc."
When one of the Han envoys to the Xiongnu remarked scornfully that
Xiongnu custom showed no respect for the aged, Zhonghang Yue began to
berate him. "According to Han custom," he said, "when the young men are
called into military service and sent off with the army to garrison the frontier,
do not their old parents at home voluntarily give up their warm clothing and
tasty food so that there will be enough to provide for the troops?"
"Yes, they do," admitted the Han envoy.
"The Xiongnu make it clear that warfare is their business. And since the
144 Han Dynasty II
old and the weak are not capable of fighting, the best food and drink are naturally
allotted to the young men in the prime of life. So the young men are willing to
fight for the defence of the nation, and both fathers and sons are able to live out
their lives in security. How can you say that the Xiongnu despise the aged?"
"But among the Xiongnu," the envoy continued, "fathers and sons sleep
together in the same tent. And when a father dies, the sons marry their
own stepmothers, and when brothers die, their remaining brothers marry their
widows! These people know nothing of the elegance of hats and girdles, nor of
the rituals of the court!"
"According to Xiongnu custom," replied Zhonghang Yue, "the people eat
the flesh of their domestic animals, drink their milk, and wear their hides, while
the animals graze from place to place, searching for pasture and water. There-
fore, in wartime the men practise riding and shooting, while in times of peace
they enjoy themselves and have nothing to do. Their laws are simple and easy
to carry out; the relation between ruler and subject is relaxed and intimate, so
that the governing of the whole nation is no more complicated than the
governing of one person. The reason that sons marry their stepmothers and
brothers marry their widowed sisters-in-law is simply that they hate to see the
clan die out. Therefore, although the Xiongnu encounter times of turmoil, the
ruling families always manage to stand firm. In China, on the other hand, though
a man would never dream of marrying his stepmother or his brother's widow,
yet the members of the same family drift so far apart that they end up murdering
each other! This is precisely why so many changes of dynasty have come about
in China! Moreover, among the Chinese, as etiquette and the sense of duty
decay, enmity arises between the rulers and the ruled, while the excessive
building of houses and dwellings exhausts the strength and resources of the
nation. Men try to get their food and clothing by farming and raising silkworms
and to insure their safety by building walls and fortifications. Therefore,
although danger threatens, the Chinese people are given no training in aggres-
sive warfare, while in times of stability they must still wear themselves out trying
to make a Jiving. Pooh! You people in your mud huts- you talk too much!
Enough of this blubbering and mouthing! Just because you wear hats, what does
that make you?"
After this, whenever the Han envoys would try to launch into any sermons
or orations, Zhonghang Yue wouldcutthemoffatonce. "Not so much talk from
the Han envoys! Just make sure that the silks and grainstuffs you bring to the
Xiongnu are of the right measure and quality, that' s all. What ' s the need for
talking? If the goods you deliver are up to measure and of good quality, all right.
But if there is any deficiency or the quality is no good, then when the autumn
harvest comes we will take our horses and trample all over your crops!"
Day and night he instructed the Shanyu on how to manoeuver into a more
advantageous position.
In the fourteenth year of Emperor Wen's reign (166 BC) the Shanyu led a
force of 140,000 horsemen through the Chaona and Xiao passes, killing Sun
Ang, the chief commandant of Beidi Province, and carrying off large numbers
of people and animals. Eventually he rode as far as Pengyang, sent a surprise
force to break into and bum the Huizhong Palace, and dispatched scouts as far
as the Palace of Sweet Springs in Yong.
Emperor Wen appointed the palace military commander Zhou She and the
chief of palace attendants Zhang Wu as generals and put them in command of
a force of l ,000 chariots and I 00,000 horsemen to garrison the vicinity of
Chang'an and guard the capital from the barbarian invaders. He also appointed
Lu Qing, the marquis of Chang, as general of Shang Province; Wei Su, the
marquis of Ning, as general of Beidi; Zhou Zao, the marquis of Longlu, as
general of Longxi; Zhang Xiangru, the marquis of Dongyang, as general in
chief; and Dong Chi, the marquis of Cheng, as general of the vanguard, and sent
them with a large force of chariots and cavalry to attack the barbarians. The
Shanyu remained within the borders of the empire for a little over a month and
then withdrew. The Han forces pursued him beyond the frontier but returned
without having been able to kill any of the enemy.
The Xiongnu grew more arrogant day by day, crossing the border
every year, killing many of the inhabitants, and stealing their animals. Yunzhong
and Liaodong suffered most severely, while in Dai Province alone over
10,000 persons were killed. The Han court, greatly distressed, sent an envoy
with a letter to the Xiongnu, and the Shanyu in turn dispatched one of his
household administrators to apologize and request a renewal of the peace
In the second year of the latter part of his reign ( 162 BC) Emperor Wen
sent an envoy to the Xiongnu with a letter that read:
The emperor respectfully inquires about the health of the great
Shanyu. Your envoys, the household administrator and juqu Diao
Bringing them within sight of the capital.
Han Dynasty /1
Qunan and the palace attendant Han Liao, have delivered to us two
horses, which we have respectfully accepted.
According to the decree of the former emperor, the land north of
the Great Wall, where men wield the bow and arrow, was to receive
its commands from the Shanyu, while that within the wall, whose
inhabitants dwell in houses and wear hats and girdles, was to be ruled
by us; thus might the countless inhabitants of these lands gain their
food and clothing by agriculture, weaving, or hunting; father and son
live side by side; ruler and minister enjoy mutual security; and all
forsake violence and rebellion. Now we have heard that certain evil
and deluded men, succumbing greedily to the lure of gain, have turned
their backs upon righteousness and violated the peace alliance, forget-
ting the fate of the countless inhabitants and disrupting the concord
which existed between the rulers of our two states.
This, however, is an affair of the past. In your letter, you say that
"since our two countries have been joined again in peace and the two
rulers are once more in concord," you desire "to rest your soldiers and
tum your horses to pasture, in order that generation after generation
may know prosperity and joy and we may make a new beginning in
peace and harmony." We heartily approve these words. The sage, it is
said, renews himself daily, reforming and making a new beginning in
order that the old people may have rest and the young grow to
manhood, that each may preserve his own life and fulfil the years which
Heaven has granted him. So long as we and the Shanyu join in walking
this road, following the will of Heaven and pitying the people, bestow-
ing the blessing of peace on generation after generation without end,
then there will be no one in the whole world who will not benefit.
Our two great nations, the Han and the Xiongnu, stand side by
side. Since the Xiongnu dwell in the north, where the land is cold and
the killing frosts come early, we have decreed that our officials shall
send to the Shanyu each year a fixed quantity of millet, leaven, gold,
silk cloth, thread, floss, and other articles.
Now the world enjoys profound peace and the people are at rest.
We and the Shanyu must be as parents to them. When we consider past
affairs, we realize that it is only because of petty matters and trifling
reasons that the plans of our ministers have failed. No such matters are
worthy to disrupt the harmony that exists between brothers.
We have heard it said that Heaven shows no partiality in sheltering
mankind, and Earth no bias in bearing it up. Let us, then, with the
Shanyu, cast aside these trifling matters of the past and walk the great
road together, wiping out former evils and planning for the distant
future, in order that the peoples of our two states may be joined together
like the sons of a single family. Then, from the countless multitudes of
the people down to the very fish and turtles, the birds which fly above,
all creatures that walk or breathe or move, there will be none that fail
to find peace and profit and relief from peril.
To allow men to come and go without hindrance is the way of
Heaven. Let us both forget past affairs. We have pardoned those of our
subjects who fled to the Xiongnu or were taken prisoner. Let the
Shanyu likewise ask no further concerning Zhang Ni and the other
Xiongnu leaders who surrendered to us.
We have heard that the rulers of ancient times made their promises
clearly known and that, once they had given their consent, they did not
go back on their words. The Shanyu should consider this well, so that
all the world may enjoy profound peace. Once the peace alliance has
been concluded, the Han shall not be the first to violate it! Let the
Shanyu ponder these words!
When the Shanyu expressed his willingness to abide by the peace agree-
ment, Emperor Wen issued an edict to the imperial secretary which read:
The great Shanyu of the Xiongnu has sent us a letter signifying
that the peace alliance has been concluded. No action need be taken
concerning those who have fled from one state to the other, since they
are not sufficiently numerous to affect the population or size of our
territories. The Xiongnu shall not enter within our borders, nor shall
the Han forces venture beyond the frontier. Anyone who violates this
agreement shall be executed. It is to the advantage of both nations that
they should live in lasting friendship without further aggression. We
have given our consent to this alliance, and now we wish to publish it
abroad to the world so that all may clearly understand it.
Four years later the Old Shanyu Jizhu died and was succeeded by his son
Junchen. After Junchen assumed the title of Shanyu, Emperor Wen once more
renewed the fonner peace alliance. Zhonghang Yue continued to act as adviser
to the new Shanyu.
148 Han Dynasty II
A little over a year after Junchen became Shanyu (158 BC)
the Xiongnu
again violated the peace alliance, invading Shang and Yunzhong provinces in
great numbers; 30,000 horsemen attacked each province, killing and carrying
off great numbers of the inhabitants before withdrawing. The emperor dis-
patched three generals with armies to garrison Beidi, the Juzhu Pass in Dai, and
the Flying Fox Pass in Zhao, at the same time ordering the other garrisons along
the border to guard their defences in order to hold off the barbarians. He also
stationed three armies in the vicinity ofChang'an at Xiliu, at Jimen north of the
Wei River, and at the Ba River, so as to be prepared for the barbarians in case
they entered that area. The Xiongnu cavalry poured through the Juzhu Pass in
Dai, and the signal fires along the border flashed the news of their invasion to
Chang 'an and the Palace of Sweet Springs. After several months the Han troops
reached the border, but by that time the Xiongnu had already withdrawn far
beyond and the Han troops were recalled.
A year or so later Emperor Wen passed away and Emperor Jing came to
the throne. At this time Liu Sui, the king of Zhao, sent envoys in secret to
negotiate with the Xiongnu. When Wu, Chu, Zhao, and the other states revolted,
the Xiongnu planned to cooperate with Zhao and cross the border, but the Han
forces besieged and defeated the king of Zhao, and the Xiongnu called off their
plans for an invasion.
After this Emperor Jing once more renewed the peace alliance with the
Xiongnu, allowing them to buy goods in the markets along the Han border and
sending them supplies and a princess of the imperial family, as had been done
under the earlier agreements. Thus, throughout Emperor Jing's reign, although
the Xiongnu from time to time made small plundering raids across the border,
they did not carry out any major invasion.
When the present emperor came to the throne he reaffirmed the peace
alliance and treated the Xiongnu with generosity, allowing them to trade in the
markets of the border stations and sending them lavish gifts. From the Shanyu
on down, all the Xiongnu grew friendly with the Han, coming and going along
the Great Wall.
The emperor then dispatched Nie Wengyi, a native of the city of Mayi, to
carry contraband goods to the Xiongnu and begin trading with them. This done,
Nie Wengyi deceived them by offering to hand over the city of Mayi to the
\ 3
Following the reading in Han shu 94A.
. ~
Xiongnu 149
Shanyu, intending by this ruse to lure him into the area. The Shanyu trusted Nie
Wengyi and, greedy for the wealth of Mayi, set out with a force of 100,000
cavalry and crossed the border at the barrier of Wuzhou. The Han in the
meantime had concealed 300,000 troops in the vicinity of Mayi, headed by four
generals under the imperial secretary Han Anguo, who was the leader of the
expeditionary forces, ready to spring on the Shanyu when he arrived.
The Shanyu crossed the Han border but was still some 100 li from Mayi
when he began to notice that, although the fields were full of animals, there was
not a single person in sight. Growing suspicious, he attacked one of the beacon
warning stations. A defence official of Y anmen who had been patrolling the
area but had caught sight of the barbarian invaders had at this time taken refuge
in the warning station, for he knew of the plan of the Han forces to ambush them.
When the Shanyu attacked and captured the warning station, he was about to
put the defence official to death when the latter informed him of the Han troops
hiding in the valley. "I suspected as much!" exclaimed the Shanyu in great alarm,
and proceeded to lead his forces back to the border. After they had safely crossed
the border he remarked. "Heaven was on my side when I captured this defence
official. In effect Heaven sent you to warn me!" and he awarded the defence
official the title of "Heavenly King".
The Han forces had agreed to wait until the Shanyu had entered Mayi before
launching their attack but, since he never proceeded that far, they had no
opportunity to strike. Meanwhile another Han general, Wang Hui, had been
ordered to lead a special force from Dai and attack the Xiongnu baggage train,
but when he heard that the Shanyu had retreated and that his forces were
extremely numerous, he did not dare to make an attack. When it was all over
the Han officials condemned Wang Hui to execution on the grounds that, though
he was the one who had engineered the entire plot, he had failed to advance
when the time came.
After this the Xiongnu broke off friendly relations with the Han and began
to attack the border defences wherever they happened to be. Time and again
they crossed the frontier and carried out innumerable plundering raids. At the
same time they continued to be as greedy as ever, delighting in the border
markets and longing for Han goods, and the Han for its part continued to allow
them to trade in the markets in order to sap their resources.
Five years after the Mayi campaign, in the autumn (129 BC), the Han
government dispatched four generals, each with a force of 10,000 cavalry, to
make a surprise attack on the barbarians at the border markets. General Wei
150 Han Dynasty II
Qing rode out of Shanggu as far as Longcheng, killing or capturing 700 of the
enemy. Gongsun He proceeded from Yunzhong, but took no captives. Gongsun
Ao rode north from Dai Province, but was defeated by the barbarians and lost
over 7,000 of his men. Li Guang advanced from Y anmen, but was defeated and
captured, though he later managed to escape and return to the Han. On their
return, Gongsun Ao and Li Guang were thrown into prison by the Han officials
but were allowed to purchase a pardon for their offences and were reduced to
the status of commoners.
In the winter the Xiongnu several times crossed the border on plundering
expeditions, hitting hardest at Yuyang. The emperor dispatched General Han
Anguo to garrison Yuyang and protect it from the barbarians. In the autumn of
the following year 20,000 Xiongnu horsemen invaded the empire, murdered the
governor of Liaoxi, and carried off over 2,000 prisoners. They also invaded
Yuyang, defeated the anny of over 1,000 under the command of the governor
of Yuyang, and surrounded Han Anguo's camp. Han Anguo at this time had a
force of over 1,000 horsemen under his command, but before long even these
were on the point of being wiped out. Relief forces arrived from Y an just in
time, and the Xiongnu withdrew. The Xiongnu also invaded Y anmen and killed
or carried off over 1 ,000 persons.
The Han then dispatched General Wei Qing with a force of 30,000 cavalry
to ride north from Y anmen, and Li Xi to ride out from Dai Province to attack
the barbarians. They succeeded in killing or capturing several thousand of the
The following year Wei Qing again rode out of Yunzhong and proceeded
west as far as Longxi, attacking the kings of the Lou fan and Baiyang barbarians
south of the Yellow River, capturing or killing several thousand of the enemy,
and seizing over I ,000,000 cattle and sheep. Thus the Han regained control of
the area south of the bend of the Yellow River and began to build fortifications
at Shuofang, repairing the old system of defences that had been set up by Meng
Tian during the Qin dynasty and strengthening the frontier along the Yellow
River. The Han also abandoned claims to the district of Shibi and the region of
Zaoyang that had formed the extreme northern part of the province of Shanggu,
handing them over to the Xi on gnu. This took place in the second year of the era
yuanshuo ( 127 BC).
The following winter the Shanyu Junchen died and his younger brother, the
Luli King of the Left, Yizhixie, set himself up as Shanyu. He attacked and
defeated Junchen's heir, Yudan, who fled and surrendered to the Han. The Han
Xiongnu 15 1
enfeoffed Yudan as marquis of Shean, but he died several months later.
The summer after Yizhixie became Shanyu the Xiongnu invaded the
province of Dai with 20,000 or 30,000 cavalry, murdering the governor, Gong
You, and carrying off over I ,000 persons. In the fall the Xi on gnu struck again,
this time at Yanmen, killing or carrying off over I ,000 of the inhabitants. The
following year they once more invaded Dai, Dingxiang, and Shang Provinces
with 30,000 cavalry in each group, killing or carrying off several thousand
persons. The Wise King of the Right, angry that the Han had seized the territory
south of the Yellow River and built fortifications at Shuofang, several times
crossed the border on plundering raids; he even went so far as to invade the
region south of the river, ravaging Shuofang and killing or carrying off a large
number of the officials and inhabitants.
In the spring of the following year ( 124 BC) the Han made Wei Qing a
general in chief and sent him with an anny of over 100,000 men and six generals
to proceed north from Shuofang and Gaoque and strike at the barbarians. The
Wise King of the Right, convinced that the Han forces could never penetrate far
enough north to reach him, had drunk himself into a stupor when the Han anny,
marching 600 or 700 hundred li beyond the border, appeared and surrounded
him in the night. The king, greatly alarmed, barely escaped with his life, and his
best horsemen managed to break away in small groups and follow after him; the
Han, however, succeeded in capturing 15,000 of his men and women, including
over ten petty kings.
In the autumn a Xiongnu force of 10,000 cavalry invaded Dai Province,
killed the chief commandant Zhu Ying, and carried off over 1 ,000 men.
In the spring of the following year ( 123 BC) the Han again dispatched the
general in chief Wei Qing with six generals and a force of over lOO,OOOcavalry;
they rode several hundred li north from Dingxiang and attacked the Xiongnu.
All in all they succeeded in killing or capturing over 19,000 of the enemy, but
in the engagements the Han side lost two generals and over 3,000 cavalry. Of
the two generals one of them, Su Jian, the general of the ri ght, managed to
escape, but the other, Zhao Xin, the marquis of Xi, who was acting as general
of the vanguard, surrendered to the Xiongnu when he saw that his men could
not win a victory.
Zhao Xin was originally a petty king of the Xiongnu who later went over
to the side of the Han. The Han enfeoffed him as marquis of Xi and made him
general of the vanguard, sending him to accompany Su Jian, the general of the
right, on a different line of advance from that of the rest of the expedition. Zhao
152 Han Dynasty If
Xin and the forces under his command were alone, however, when they
encountered the Shanyu's men, and as a result his troops were wiped out. The
Shanyu, having accepted Zhao Xin 's surrender, appointed him to the rank of
Zici king, gave him his own sister as a wife, and began to plot with him against
the Han. Zhao Xin advised the Shanyu to withdraw farther north beyond the
desert instead of manoeuvering near the Chinese border. In this way he would
be able to lure the Han troops after him and, when they were thoroughly
exhausted, take advantage of their weakness to wipe them out. The Shanyu
agreed to follow this plan.
The following year 10,000 barbarian horsemen invaded Shanggu and killed
several hundred inhabitants.
In the spring of the next year ( 121 BC) the Han dispatched the general of
swift cavalry Huo Qubing to lead I 0,000 cavalry out of Longxi. They rode more
than 1 ,000 li beyond Mt. Yanzhi and attacked the Xiongnu, killing or capturing
over 18,000 of the enemy cavalry, defeating the Xiutu king, and seizing the
golden man which he used in worshipping Heaven.
In the summer Huo Qubing, accompanied by Gongsun Ao, the Heqi
marquis, led a force of 20,000 or 30,000 cavalry some 2,000 li out of Longxi
and Beidi to attack the barbarians. They passed Juyan, attacked in the region of
the Qilian Mountains, and captured or killed over 30,000 of the enemy, includ-
ing seventy or more petty kings and their subordinates.
Meanwhile the Xiongnu invaded Yanmen in Dai Province, killing or
carrying off several hundred persons. The Han dispatched Zhang Qian, the
Bowang marquis, and General Li Guang to ride out of Youbeiping and attack
the Xiongnu Wise King of the Left. The Wise King of the Left surrounded Li
Guang's army and came near to wiping out his 4,000 men, though he managed
to inflict extraordinary damage on the enemy. Zhang Qian's forces came to the
rescue just in time and Li Guang was able to escape, but the Han losses amounted
to several thousand men. When the armies returned to the capital, Gongsun Ao
was accused of having arrived late at a rendezvous with Huo Qubing and was
condemned to die along with Zhang Qian; both men purchased pardons and
were reduced to the rank of commoners.
The Shanyu was angry at the Hunye and Xiutu kings who lived in the
Scholars have long speculated whether the "golden man" might not have been a
Buddhist image. If so, this passage would mark the earliest record of Chinese contact with the
Buddhist religion.
Xiongnu 153
western part of his domain because they had allowed the Han to capture or kill
20,000 or 30,000 of their men; in the autumn he sent them a summons, intending
to execute them. The Hunye and Xiutu kings, terrified, sent word to the Han
that they were willing to surrender. The Han dispatched Huo Qubing to go and
meet them, but on the way the Hunye king murdered the Xiutu king and
combined the latter's forces with his own. When he surrendered to the Han, he
had a force of over 40,000 men, though it was commonly referred to as a force
of 100,000. Having gained the allegiance of the Hunye king, the Han found itself
far less troubled by barbarian invasions in the regions of Longxi, Beidi, and
Hexi. It therefore moved a number of poor people from east of the Pass to the
region south of the bend of the Yellow River known as New Qin, which bad
been seized from the Xiongnu, in order to populate the area, and reduced the
number of garrison troops along the border west of Beidi to half.
The following year (120 BC) the Xiongnu invaded Youbeiping and
Dingxiang with a force of 20,000 or 30,000 cavalry in each region, killing or
carrying off over I ,000 persons before withdrawing.
In the spring of the following year ( 119 BC) the Han strategists plotted
together, saying, "Zhao Xin, the marquis of Xi, who is acting as adviser to the
Shanyu, is convinced that, since the Xiongnu are living north of the desert, the
Han forces can never reach them." They agreed therefore to fatten the horses
on grain and send out a force of 100,000 cavalry, along with 140,000 horses to
carry baggage and other equipment (this in addition to the horses provided for
transporting provisions). They ordered the force to split up into two groups
commanded by the general in chief Wei Qing and the general of swift cavalry
Huo Qubing. The former was to ride out of Dingxiang and the latter out of Dai;
it was agreed that the entire force would cross the desert and attack the Xiongnu.
When the Shanyu received word of the approach of these armies, he ordered
his baggage trains to withdraw to a distance and, with his finest soldiers, waited
on the northern edge of the desert, where he closed in battle with the army of
Wei Qing. The battle continued throughout the day and, as evening fell, a strong
wind arose. With this the Han forces swooped out to the left and right and
surrounded the Shanyu. The Shanyu, perceiving that he was no match for the
Han forces, abandoned his army and, accompanied by only a few hundred of
his finest horsemen, broke through the Han encirclement and fled to the
northwest. The Han forces set out after him in the night and, though they did
not succeed in capturing him, cut down or seized 19,000 of the enemy on the
way. They proceeded north as far as Zhao Xin' s fort at Mt. Tianyan before
!54 Han Dynasty II
turning back.
After the Shanyu had fled, his soldiers, mingling with the Han forces in the
confusion, little by little made their way after him. It was therefore a consider-
able time before the Shanyu was able to reassemble his army again. The Luli
King of the Right, believing that the Shanyu had been killed in battle, declared
himself the new Shanyu, but when the real Shanyu gathered his forces together
again the Luli king renounced the title and resumed his former position.
Huo Qubing had meanwhile advanced some 2,000 li north from Dai and
closed in battle with the Xiongnu Wise King of the Left. The Han forces killed
or captured over 70,000 of the enemy and the Wise King and his generals all
fled. Huo Qubing performed a Feng sacrifice at Mt. Langjuxu and a Shan
sacrifice at Mt. Guy an, gazing out across the sea of sand before returning. After
this the Xiongnu withdrew far from the Chinese border, and their leaders no
longer established their courts south of the desert.
In the territory beyond the Yellow River from Shuofang west to Lingju the
Han established irrigation works and set up garrison farms here and there,
sending 50,000 or 60,000 officials and soldiers to man them. Gradually the
farms ate up more and more territory until they bordered the lands of the
Xiongnu to the north.
In the campaign just concluded, when the two Han generals advanced north
in great force and surrounded the Shanyu, the Han had succeeded in killing or
capturing 80,000 or 90,000 of the enemy. At the same time, however, 20,000
or 30,000 Han soldiers lost their lives in the expedition and over l 00,000 horses
were killed. Thus, although the Xiongnu had withdraw far to the north to nurse
their wounds, the Han, being short of horses, was unable to strike at them again.
Following the advice of Zhao Xin, the Xiongnu dispatched an envoy to the Han
court to use soft words and request a peace alliance. When the emperor referred
the proposal to his ministers for deliberation, some of them spoke in favour of
a peace pact, while others urged that the Han pursue the Xiongnu and force them
to submission. Ren Chang, the chief secretary to the chancellor, announced his
opinion, "Since the Xiongnu have just recently been defeated and their spirits
broken, they should be treated as foreign vassals and required to come to the
border in the spring and autumn to pay their respects to the Han."
The emperor accordingly sent Ren Chang to the Shanyu with this counter-
proposal. When the Shanyu heard Ren Chang's suggestion, he flew into a rage
and detained him in his camp, refusing to send him back to China. (Earlier, one
of the Xiongnu envoys had gone over to the side of the Han and remained in
China and the Shanyu therefore detained Ren Chang by way of retaliation.)
The Han then began to gather together a force of men and horses in
preparation for another campaign, but just at that time the general of swift
cavalry Huo Qubing died and so for several years the Han made no further
attacks on the Xiongnu.
The Shanyu Yizhixie, after having ruled for thirteen years, died and was
succeeded by his son Wuwei. This occurred in the third year of the yuanding
era (114 BC). At the time that Wuwei became Shanyu, the Son of Heaven made
his first imperial tour of the various provinces, and after that the Han armies
were busy in the south putting down the rebellion in the two kingdoms of
Southern and Eastern Yue, so no attacks were made on the Xiongnu. The
Xiongnu for their part likewise made no raids across the border.
Three years after Wuwei became Shanyu the Han, having wiped out the
kingdom of Southern Yue, dispatched the former master of carriage Gongsun
He at the head of a force of 15,000 cavalry; they rode more than 2,000 l i north
from Jiuyuan, advancing as far as Fujujing before turning back, but they did not
catch sight of a single Xiongnu. The Han also dispatched Zhao Ponu, the former
Congpiao marquis, with over 10,000 cavalry to ride out of Lingju; Zhao Ponu
proceeded several thousand li, reaching the Xionghe River before turning back,
but he too failed to see a single Xiongnu.
At this time the emperor was making a tour of the border. When he reached
Shuofang, he held an inspection of 180,000 cavalry soldiers in order to make a
display of military might, at the same time dispatching a man named Guo Ji to
the Shanyu to make sure that the Xiongnu were fully informed of the event.
When Guo Ji reached the Xiongnu, the Xiongnu master of guests asked him
what his business was. Replying in very polite and humble terms, Guo Ji said,
"I would like to wait until I am granted an audience with the Shanyu before
stating my business."
When he was shown before the Shanyu he said, "The head of the king of
Southern Yue hangs above the northern gate of the Han capital. Now, if you are
able, advance and engage the Han forces in battle! The Son of Heaven has led
his troops in person and is waiting on the border. But if you are not able, then
tum your face to the south and acknowledge yourself a subject of the Han! Why
this useless running away and hiding far off north of the desert in a cold and
bitter land where there is no water or pasture? It will get you nowhere!"
When he had finished speaking, the Shanyu, livid with rage, ordered the
master of guests who had ushered him in to be cut down on the spot. He detained
156 Han Dynasty II
Guo Ji and would not let him return to China; later he moved him to the shore
of the Northern Sea (Lake Baikal). In the end, however, the Shanyu refused to
be provoked into invading the Han border but turned his horses to pasture, rested
his troops, and practised archery and hunting instead, sending envoys to the Han
from time to time to speak with soft words and honeyed phrases and request a
peace alliance.
The Han in tum sent Wang Wu and others as envoys to observe the
Xiongnu. According to Xiongnu Jaw, unless an envoy from the Han surrendered
his credentials and allowed his face to be tattooed in black, he would not be
admitted to the Shanyu's tent. Wang Wu had been born in the north and was
familiar with the barbarian customs, and therefore he readily gave up his
credentials, submitted to the tattooing, and was able to gain admittance to the
Shanyu's tent. The Shanyu showed a great liking for him and pretended to agree
amiably with whatever he said, even with the suggestion that he send his son,
the heir apparent to the position of Shanyu, as a hostage to the Han in order to
secure a peace alliance. The Han then dispatched Yang X in as envoy to the
At this time the Han forces in the east had conquered the barbarian states
of Huimo and Chaoxian and made provinces out of them, while in the west the
Han had created the province of Jiuquan in order to drive a wedge between the
Xiongnu and the Qiang barbarians and cut off communications between them.
It had also established relations with the Yuezhi people and Daxia (Bactria)
farther west and had sent an imperial princess to marry the ruler of the Wusun
people, all in an effort to create a split between the Xiongnu and the states to
the west which had up to this time aided and supported them. In addition, the
Han continued to expand its agricultural lands in the north until the frontier had
been pushed out as far as Xuanlei. In spite of all these moves, however, the
Xiongnu did not dare to voice any objections. This year Zhao Xin, the marquis
of Xi, who had been acting as adviser to the Shanyu, died.
The Han administrators believed that the Xiongnu had already been suffi-
ciently weakened and could now be made to acknowledge themselves subjects
of the Han and submit to Chinese rule, and therefore they had dispatched Yang
X in as envoy to the Shanyu. But Yang X in was by nature very outspoken and
unyielding and had never been high in the Han bureaucracy; the Shanyu showed
no liking for him. When summoned for an interview in the Shanyu's tent, he
refused to surrender his credentials, and so the Shanyu had mats spread outside
his tent and received Yang Xin there. "If you wish to conclude a peace alliance,"
Yang Xin announced when he had been shown into the Shanyu ' s presence, "you
must send your heir to the Han court as a hostage!"
"That is not the way things were done under the old alliance!" the Shanyu
objected. "Under the old alliance the Han always sent us an imperial princess,
as well as allotments of silks, foodstuffs, and other goods, in order to secure
peace, while we for our part refrained from making trouble on the border. Now
you want to go against the old ways and make me send my son as a hostage. I
have no use for such proposals!"
It is the way with the Xi on gnu that, whenever an envoy from the Han comes
who is not a high court official, if he is the scholarly Confucian type, they assume
that he has come to lecture them and they do all they can to squelch his rhetoric,
while if he is a young man, they assume he has come with assassination in mind
and concentrate on destroying his nerve. Every time a Han envoy arrives among
the Xiongnu, they send an envoy of their own to the Han in exchange. If the
Han detains the Xiongnu envoy, then the Xiongnu detain the Han envoy and
will not release him until they have received what they consider just treatment.
After Yang Xin returned from his mission to the Xiongnu, the Han dis-
patched Wang Wu again, and once more the Shanyu began to talk in a mild and
conciliatory way, hoping to be given a sizable grant of Han goods. As part of
the deception he told Wang Wu, "I would like to make a trip to the Han and visit
the Son of Heaven so that face to face we may swear a pact of brotherhood!"
When Wang Wu returned and reported on his mission, the Han built a
residence for the Shanyu in Chang'an. The Shanyu, however, sent word that
"unless some important member of the Han government is sent as envoy, I
cannot discuss the matter seriously."
Meanwhile the Xiongnu dispatched one of their important men as envoy to
the Han. When the man reached China, however, he fell ill and, although the
Han doctors gave him medicine and tried to cure him, he unfortunately died.
The Han then sent Lu Chongguo to act as envoy and to accompany the body of
the dead Xiongnu back to his country, spending several thousand gold pieces
on a lavish funeral for him. Lu Chongguo was given the seals of a 2,000 picul
official to wear at his belt and bore assurances to the Xiongnu that "this man is
an important official of the Han". The Shanyu, however, was convinced that the
Han had murdered the Xiongnu envoy and therefore detained Lu Chongguo and
refused to let him return to China. By this time everyone on the Han side was
of the opinion that the Shanyu had only been deceiving Wang Wu with empty
talk and in fact had no intention of corning to China or sending his son as a
158 Han Dynasty II
hostage. After this the Xiongnu several times sent surprise parties of troops to
raid the border, and the Han for its part conferred on Guo Chang the title of
"Barbarian Quelling General" and sent Zhao Ponu, the marquis of Zhuoye, to
garrison the area from Shuofang to the east and defend it against the Xiongnu.
Lu Chongguo had been detained by the Xiongnu for three years when the
Shanyu Wuwei died, having ruled for ten years. He was succeeded by his son,
W ushilu. W ushilu was still young and was therefore called the Boy Shanyu. The
change took place in the sixth year of the yuanfeng era ( 105 BC).
After this the Shanyu gradually moved farther to the northwest, so that the
soldiers of his left or eastern wing occupied the area north of Yunzhong, while
those of his right wing were in the area around Jiuquan and Dunhuang provinces.
When the Boy Shanyu came to power the Han dispatched two envoys, one
to the new Shanyu to convey condolences on the death of his father, and the
other to convey condolences to the Wise King of the Right, hoping in this way
to cause dissension between the two leaders. When the envoys entered Xiongnu
territory, however, the Xiongnu guides led them both to the Shanyu. The Shanyu,
discovering what they were up to, was furious and detained them both. The
Xiongnu had already detained over ten Han envoys in the past, while the Han
had likewise detained a proportionate number of Xiongnu envoys. This same
year the Han sent the Sutrishna General Li Guangli west to attack Dayuan
(Ferghana) and ordered the Yinyu General Gongsun Ao to build a fortified city
called Shouxiangcheng, the "City for Receiving Surrender".
In the winter the Xiongnu were afflicted by heavy snowfalls, and many of
their animals died of starvation and cold. The Shanyu, still a young boy, had a
great fondness for warfare and slaughter, and many of his subjects were restless
under his leadership. The Xiongnu chief commandant of the left wanted to
assassinate the Shanyu and sent a messenger in secret to report to the Han, "I
wish to assassinate the Shanyu and surrender to the Han, but the Han is too far
away.lfthe Han will send a party of troops to meet me, however, I will at once
carry out the plot."
It was in fact because of this report that the Han had built the fortified City
for Receiving Surrender. But the Han still considered that the chief commandant
of the left was too far away to carry out his plot successfully.
In the spring of the following year the Han sent Zhao Ponu, the marquis of
Zhuoye to lead a force of over 20,000 cavalry some 2,000 li northwest from
Shuofang and make contact with the chief commandant of the left at Mt. Junji
before returning. Zhao Ponu arrived at the point of rendezvous but, before the
Xiongnu 159
chief commandant of the left could carry out the assassination, his plot was
discovered. The Shanyu had him executed and dispatched the forces from his
left wing to attack Zhao Ponu. Zhao Ponu had by this time begun to withdraw,
taking prisoners and killing several thousand Xiongnu soldiers on the way.
When he was still400 li from the City for Receiving Surrender, however, 80,000
Xiongnu cavalry swooped down and surrounded him. Zhao Ponu slipped out of
the encirclement during the night and went by himselfto look for water, but was
captured alive by Xiongnu scouts. The main body of the Xiongnu then pressed
their attack on Zhao Ponu's army. Guo Zong and Wei Wang, two of the high
officers in the Han army, plotted together, saying, "All of us, down to the
company commanders, are afraid that, having lost our commanding general, we
will be executed under military law. Therefore no one is anxious to return
home." Eventually the whole army surrendered to the Xiongnu. The Boy Shanyu
was delighted with his catch and sent a raiding party to attack the City for
Receiving Surrender, but the city held fast. The party then plundered the border
area and withdrew.
The following year the Shanyu again set out to attack the City for Receiving
Surrender, this time in person, but before he reached his destination he fell ill
and died. He had been Shanyu only three years. Since his son was still very
small, the Xiongnu appointed his uncle Goulihu, the former Wise King of the
Right and younger brother of the Shanyu Wuwei, as the new Shanyu. This took
place in the third year of the era taichu (102 BC).
After Goulihu had become Shanyu the Han sent the superintendent of the
imperial household Xu Ziwei to ride out of the barrier at Wuyuan and range
through the area from several hundred to 1 ,000 li or more north of the border,
building forts and watch stations as far as Mt. Luqu. The Han also dispatched
the scouting and attacking general Han Y ue and the marquis of Changping, Wei
Kang, to garrison the region, at the same time sending the chief commandant of
strong crossbowmen Lu Bode to build fortifications along the swamp at Juyan.
In the autumn the Xiongnu invaded Dingxiang and Yunzhong in great
force, murdering or carrying off several thousand persons. They also defeated
several officials of the 2,000 picul rank before withdrawing, and destroyed the
forts and watch stations that Xu Ziwei had built as they went along. At the same
time the Wise King of the Right invaded Jiuquan and Zhangye provinces and
carried off several thousand persons. The Han general Reo Wen, however, came
to the rescue, attacking the Xiongnu and forcing them to give up all the spoils
and prisoners they had taken.
160 Han Dynasty II
This year the Sutrishna General Li Guangli defeated the kingdom of
Dayuan, cut off the head of its ruler, and returned. The Xiongnu tried to block
his return but could not reach him in time. In the winter they planned an attack
on the City for Receiving Surrender, but just at that time the Shanyu died. The
Shanyu Goulihu had ruled for only a year when he died. The Xiongnu set up his
younger brother, Judihou, the former chief commandant of the left, as Shanyu.
At this time the Han had just conquered the kingdom of Dayuan, and
its might filled the neighbouring states with terror. The emperor had hopes of
carrying out the final suppression of the Xiongnu and issued an edict which
Emperor Gaozu has left us the task of avenging the difficulties
which he suffered at Pingcheng. Furthermore, during the reign
of Empress Li.i the Shanyu sent to the court a most treasonable
and insulting letter. In ancient times when Duke Xiang of Qi avenged
an insult which one of his ancestors nine generations earlier had
suffered, Confucius praised his conduct in the Spring and Autumn
This year was the fourth year of the era taichu (I 0 I BC).
After Judihou became Shanyu he returned all of the Han envoys who had
not gone over to his side. Thus Lu Chongguo and the others were able to come
home. When the new Shanyu assumed the rule, he was afraid that the Han would
attack him and so he said, "I consider that I am but a little child. How could I
hope to equal the Han Son of Heaven? The Son of Heaven is like a father to
The Han dispatched the general of palace attendants Su Wu to present
generous gifts to the Shanyu. With this the Shanyu grew increasingly arrogant
and behaved with great rudeness, betraying the hopes of the Han.
The following year Zhao Ponu managed to escape from the Xiongnu and
return home. The year after, the Han sent Li Guangli with 30,000 cavalry north
from Jiuquan to attack the Wise King of the Right in the Heavenly Mountains.
He killed or captured over I 0,000 of the enemy before returning. The Xiongnu,
. , .
tma tan s narrative probably ends somewhere around this point; the remainder of
the chapter down to the closing remarks, a series of rather choppy notes, is most likely the
work of Chu Shaosun or one of the other writers who undertook to make additions to the Shi
X ion gnu 161
however, surrounded him in great force and he was barely able to escape; six
or seven out of every ten of his men were killed.
The Han also sent Gongsun Ao north from Xihe; at Mt. Zhuotu he joined
forces with Lu Bode, but neither of them succeeded in killing or capturing any
of the enemy. The Han also sent the cavalry commandant Li Ling with a force
of 5,000 infantry and cavalry to march north from Juyan. After they had
proceeded over 1 ,000 li they engaged the Shany/J in battle. Li Ling killed or
wounded over 10,000 of the enemy, but his provisions soon gave out and his
men began to scatter and flee for home. The Xiongnu then surrounded Li Ling,
who surrendered to them. Most of his men were wiped out, only 400 of them
managing to return to safety. The Shanyu treated Li Ling with great honour and
gave him his own daughter for a wife.
Two years later the Han again dispatched Li Guangli with 60,000 cavalry
and 100,000 infantry to march north from Shuofang. Lu Bode led some 10,000
men to join them, while Han Yue advanced with 30,000 infantry and cavalry
from Wuyuan. Gongsun Ao proceeded from Yanmen with 10,000 cavalry and
30,000 infantry. When the Shanyu received word of their advance, he moved
all his family and wealth far to the north beyond the Yuwu River. He himself,
with I 0,000 cavalry, waited south of the river and engaged Li Guangli in battle.
Li Guangli's lines broke and he began to retreat, fighting a running battle with
the Shanyu for over ten days. But when word reached him that his entire family
had been wiped out as a result of the witchcraft affair,
he and all his men
surrendered to the Xiongnu. Only one or two out of every 1 ,000 men who set
out with him managed to return to China. Han Yue did not succeed in killing or
capturing any of the enemy, while Gongsun Ao, though he fought with the Wise
K i ~ g of the Left, was unable to win any advantage and likewise retreated. From
aH the parties that went out to attack the Xiongnu this year, among those who
returned there were none to testify as to what degree of success the various
generals had achieved and therefore no honours were awarded. An imperial
edict had been issued ordering the arrest of the grand physician Sui Dan. He in
tum gave out the news that Li. Guangli.'s family had been exterminated and
thereby caused Li Guangli to surrender to the Xiongnu.
In 91 BC the heir apparent, Prince Li , and his mother, Empress Wei, were accused of
attempting to kill the emperor by black magic. Many high officials of the dynasty were
implicated in the investigations that followed, among them Li Guangli. But the battle referred
to above took place in 99 BC, so the text is obviously out of order.
Han Dynasty II
The Grand Historian remarks: When Confucius wrote the Spring and
Autumn Annals, he was very open in treating the reigns of Yin and Huan, the
early dukes of Lu; but when he came to the later period of Dukes Ding and Ai,
his writing was much more covert. Because in the latter case he was writing
about his own times, he did not express his judgments frankly, but used subtle
and guarded language.
The trouble with the ordinary run of men these days who discuss Xiongnu
affairs is that they seek only for some temporary advantage, resorting to any
kind of flattery in order to have their own views accepted, without considering
what the effect may be on all parties concerned. At the same time the generals
and military leaders, relying upon the vastness and might of China, grow
increasingly bold, and the ruler follows their advice in making his decisions.
Thus no profound achievement is ever reached.
Emperor Yao in ancient times, as wise as he was, was not completely
successful as a ruler; the nine provinces of China had to wait until the reign of
Emperor Yu before they knew real peace. If one would establish a truly worthy
dynasty such as those of old, therefore, nothing is more important than selecting
the right generals and ministers! Nothing is more important than selecting the
right generals and ministers!
Sima Qian's purpose in making these seemingly irrelevant remarks about Confucius
and the Spring and Autumn Annals is of course to warn the reader that he too is obliged to use
"guarded language" in hi s discussion of the Xiongnu problem.
They patrolled the winding frontier, broadened our lands south of the bend
of the Yellow River, defeated the enemy at Qilian, opened up contact with
the western states, and overpowered the northern barbarians. Thus I made
"The Biographies of General Wei Qing and the Swift Cavalry General Huo
The general in chief Wei Qing was a native ofPingyang. His father, Zheng
Ji, was a clerk in the household of the marquis of Pingyang, where he had illicit
relations with Dame Wei, a concubine of the marquis. From this union Wei Qing
was born. Before this Dame Wei had already given birth to a boy, Wei Changzi,
and a girl, Wei Zifu. The latter, because she was employed in the household of
the princess of Pingyang, the wife of the marquis of Pingyang and older sister
of Emperor Wu, later managed to obtain favour with the emperor. For this reason
Wei Qing also adopted the family name Wei and the polite name Zhongqing,
and his brother Zhangzi changed his name to Changj un. The oldest daughter of
their mother was named Wei Ru, her second daughter Wei Shaoer, and her third
daughter Wei Zifu. Later she had another son named Buguang. All her children
adopted the surname Wei.
Wei Qing became a servant in the household of the
marquis of Pingyang.
When he was young Wei Qing went to live with his father, but his father
set him to herding sheep and all his half-brothers, sons of his father's legitimate
wife, treated him like a slave and refused to recognize him as a brother.
Once, while Wei Qing was a servant, he had occasion to visit the prison at
the Palace of Sweet Springs. There one of the convicts in chains examined his
The narrative is remarkably confused. Was Zheng Ji the father of all Dame Wei's
children, and was Wei her own family name? Or did she have a husband named Wei?
Apparent! y Sima Qian was not certain of the facts when he wrote the passage.